July 2005

This Samaritan Bypasses the Congenitally Ill...

WORLD Magazine's main blog has an ad at the top for Samaritan Ministries, a "unique ministry that doesn't involve insurance" which facilitates "Christians...helping Christians with medical expenses."

But among the forms of medical expense excluded from coverage by Samaritan Ministries are these: abortion and congenital disease.

In its page describing coverage limitations, Samaritan Ministries specifies that it will "publish" (list for sharing by members) only up to $25,000 in expense for congenital conditions (one quarter its normal $100,000 maximum) and then only under the following conditions:

7. Congenital Defects (whether always obvious or hidden for some time)--Will be published up to a maximum of $25,000 per condition during the life of the person when both of these criteria are met:
a. The condition may be permanently improved or cured by surgery or other treatment with a determined termination (as opposed to an indefinite length of treatment); and

b. one of these is true:

1) Neither the condition nor a symptom of the condition were discovered until after the patient had been a member for one year;

2) the condition has not required treatment or produced symptoms for at least five years; or

3) the condition exists in a child who has been included in a membership from birth and the mother was included in a membership prior to the pregnancy.

How sadly ironic to require that a congenital condition be "permanently improved" by treatment for Good Samaritan to consider the medical expense for "publication." How many congenital conditions have any prospect of being "permanently improved?" Muscular dystrophy? Cystic fibrosis? Neurofibromatosis? Hemophilia?

Evidently this Good Samaritan walks around the congenitally deformed on his way to the righteousness of God.

Here's an idea, Samaritan Ministries: if congenitally deformed children aren't worthy of your care, why not pay for abortion so that the parents of these kids don't get stuck with their long-term expenses either?

Update:

I just read the PDF version of a ruling by an Illinois tax court denying Good Samaritan Ministries' request for religious property tax exemption in 2001.

The ruling spells out the finances of this organization. It's clear from its 2001 budget that those behind this organization aren't profiting excessively from it. Moreover, details in the ruling clearly support the Christian identity of this organization and its leaders' desire to glorify God through their organization.

I remain troubled that an organization which claims the mantle of faith and the name "Good Samaritan" would exclude the most helpless and needy from coverage. But I equally regret the harshness of my concluding judgment above.

The Church of Rome a Visible Church?

In returning to the USA from Guadalajara, I am forced to acknowledge my proud provincialism as an American Presbyterian when it comes to tackling the thorny question of Roman Catholic legitimacy as a Church of Jesus Christ.

Some months ago I commended to our readers an argument by Charles Hodge in the Princeton Review urging acceptance of Roman Catholic baptism on the basis of Roman Catholicism's status as a visible Church of Christ. Though Hodge's position on Roman Catholicism was scandalous within Presbyterianism in the 1840s, it no longer provokes opposition within most of American Presbyterianism. Willingness to accept Rome as a visible Church is clearly the majority position among teaching elders of the Presbyterian Church of America.

But encounter Rome through the eyes of one converted to Christ out of Roman Catholicism and suddenly many of Hodge's arguments sound hollow. This is especially true of those converted out of Roman Catholicism in places such as Mexico where Roman Catholicism remains the vastly majority religion without the benefit of 300-plus years of confrontation with majority-religion Protestantism to moderate its excesses.

Which leads me to wonder if Hodge would have written in defense of Roman Catholicism had he been a missionary in South America rather than a professor at Princeton Seminary?

For that matter, I also wonder if PCA pastors in North and South America should pay closer attention to the thoughts of their native colleagues before joining with Roman Catholics in prayer services. Surely a native Presbyterian pastor converted out of Roman Catholicism and working to convert Roman Catholics to true faith is at least as well equipped to judge whether Rome is a visible Church as one whose knowledge of Rome is largely theoretical.

Some further thoughts on Roman Catholicism as a visible Church:

1) Is this an area for charity or precision? I suspect, despite my concerns with how the regulative worship principle (RWP) is sometimes applied within Reformed churches, that a growing lack of concern for the RWP within a Reformed body will inevitably lead to a willingness to accept Rome as a visible Church.

Once idolatry is no longer viewed as a present danger, charity rules. But the syncretistic worship of the northern kingdom was NEVER treated charitably by God through His prophets. Is not Rome akin to Samaria? But salvation is of the Jews, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman. There is no compromise.

The call of God is to precision and warning for those granted the privilege of declaring His Word. Let God be charitable in His treatment of individuals within Roman Catholicism. Prophets must heed His Word in speaking of Mount Gerizim. We ignore such heretical Roman doctrines as those declared at the Council of Trent at our peril.

2) Is it possible to speak of a disparate, variegated worldwide body as a monolithic whole? Hodge agrees that the Church is apparent in the world in a variety of forms, from local body to universal Bride of Christ. But can we speak of a worldwide body as visible when such a declaration ignores the teaching of that body in many places throughout the world?

The churches of Revelation were in much closer proximity than the churches of Rome, yet they are individually addressed and judged rather than corporately summarized. By declaring Rome, in total, a visible Church, do we not accept the basic Roman argument of apostolic succession and unity? How can we describe Rome as a "visible" Church when Rome, as a whole, is hard-pressed to fit any of the classic New Testament aspects of Christ's Bride?

3) Hodge's sanguine view of Rome's formal theology seems to assume that theology is entirely a matter of books and documents, rather than living belief written on the heart. When such a vast disconnect exists between what Hodge views as the basically orthodox central tenets of Roman Catholicism and the expression of those tenets in the faith of individual lives around the world, perhaps it is necessary to test the doctrine by the fruit it produces.

Mid-Trip Report from Carlisle, England...

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After a wonderful two-week visit with David and Terri Wegener, and their children, Elizabeth, Mary, Jon, and Sarah (see pic above), we flew to the United Kingdom where we have spent the past few days in Carlisle visiting Brian and Vivian Doub, along with their sons, Isaiah and Schuyler (see pic below; yes, I'm laughing but it does have the merit of not showing any of us in detail).

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Our time in Zambia was excellent. Wonderful visits with the Wegeners plus good fellowship through preaching and teaching opportunities both at the Theological College of Central Africa and local churches.

The Doubs are missionaries working at the international headquarters of Operation Mobilization here in Carlisle. Brian is responsible for international communications. Vivian home-schools the two younger children (Isaiah and Schuyler), runs the home, and helps with some of the accounting connected with Peter Maiden's office (Maiden is OM's international director).

We've enjoyed our visit quite a bit. Yesterday we were able to worship with the Doubs at their church, Hebron Evangelical Church, and to meet some of the believers there. We especially appreciated the Howard and Gail Newtons who were home on furlough from India and reported on their work there. After worship, we all went down into the Lake District where we hiked and Brian demonstrated his hobby, paragliding.

We've had good talks and have particularly enjoyed discussing with the Doubs the pressures on OM here and internationally in our multi-cultural, post-terrorist world. Really, the issues are very similar in Zambia, the UK, and the US. Everywhere, pressure is being brought to bear on Christians to accept the pantheon of gods, to deny the exclusivity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to submit to the ultimate authority of the the civil/political government. But more on this later.

Today we leave for Portsmouth--the whole way from the northern border of England to the southern coast on the English Channel--in one day. We'll be starting our week of family vacation and, for the first time, be alone as a family. We're going to spend the time visiting Jane Austen's home, the English naval museum and Admiral Nelson's HMS Victory, among other things.

Then one week from today, Mary Lee, Hannah, and Taylor will leave for Budapest, Hungary where they will be visiting the Grant Olson family (who work with Campus Crusade).Meanwhile, I will fly to Rwanda to join the Church of the Good Shepherd short-term missions team working with Jean Baptiste in Kigali.

We've had great difficulty gettting internet connections. Then, two days ago, my laptop's LCD screen went dead. So after I disconnect this time, we're going to be out of communication until we get home. (I'm only able to do E-mail now through Brian's assistance providing me a monitor I can use with my laptop.)

Thank you for your prayers. Please pray for our safety, and for us to grow in our understanding of the needs of the Church in other parts of the world. Since my brother and I will both be on short-term missions trips for the next couple of weeks, and since my laptop is out of commission, please understand if there are few or no postings until the end of the first week of August.

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Blog Details...

I see that I've permanently erased at least one comment in the process of cleaning out a spam torrent here. The last day has seen a blizzard of spam comments on our blog--over 200--and I got careless in removing them.

Sorry if your comment was deleted. I didn't intend to remove non-spam comments.

I leave in several hours for Guadalajara, Mexico, with a group of 20 from Christ the Word. We'll be doing construction and medical work in partnership with a church in Santa Ana we've become allied with pastored by Gonzalo Garcia, a wonderful servant of the Lord in the Mexican Presbyterian Church.

Tim's in Africa. I'll be in Mexico. I don't know what the frequency of posts will be.

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Gulag Archipelago

A salutary post on Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago at Jack's Pipe.

The comparison to Hell is thought-provoking.

In future centuries, should Christ tarry, Solzhenitsyn will be viewed as one of the very few who looked out on the 20th century with unblinkered gaze. Few of our time have understood the world as keenly as Solzhenitsyn.

Yet, for all the respect he receives today, he may as well be dead. In fact, I'll bet many who read this don't know for certain whether he's still alive (he is, living in Russia again after years of exile in America).

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Santorum on Boston....

Senator Rick Santorum is taking lumps even from conservatives for suggesting that Boston's "academic, political and cultural liberalism" may have created an atmosphere of moral relativism which permitted the priest/pederasty scandal to burgeon there.

Santorum wrote in his 2002 column:

It is startling that those in the media and academia appear most disturbed by this aberrant behavior, since they have zealously promoted moral relativism by sanctioning "private" moral matters such as alternative lifestyles. Priests, like all of us, are affected by culture. When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm.

Santorum's column recently entered public consciousness when Senator Edward Kennedy attacked it Wednesday in a speech on the Senate floor.

In the hours since, several conservative blogs have shied away from Santorum, with at least one calling on Santorum to retract the accusation.

Arguments against the Santorum speech have focused on statistical comparisons of Boston's pederasty rate vis a vis other Roman Catholic dioceses. While Boston apparently ranked among the top ten American Roman Catholic dioceses in rate of offenses in the recent pederasty scandals, other less conservative (and much smaller) dioceses ranked higher while several dioceses in equally liberal cities ranked much lower. See statistical analyses here and here.

Why conservatives are running and hiding from the Santorum claim is a mystery to me. Do they fear a few selective statistics so much that they'll throw in the towel on common sense rather than engage in defense of Santorum? Is taking on Boston or Ted Kennedy too frightening a proposition?

Is there a link between acceptance of pederasty and education? Between winking at sodomy and moral relativism? Apparently those who make their living betting on such linkages think so. Here is Loyola Marymount Law School professor Stan Goldman quoted in a February Reuters article on what jury experts would look for in choosing jurors for Michael Jackson's trial on child molestation charges:

Jackson's attorneys may look for jurors who have advanced degrees, critical thinkers who question authority. The perfect Defence juror may be "a left-winger who just moved from San Francisco with a lot of education and who is willing to forgive Michael Jackson his idiosyncrasies," Goldman said.

Santorum may be the village fool in the eyes of the Washington Post and the Boston Globe for making such a connection, but I wouldn't be surprised if both papers printed this February Reuters report on the Jackson jury selection process which makes essentially the same connection Santorum made in his article.

Apparently, we're simply to trust the editorial boards of the Globe and the Post who assure us it couldn't be so. But let me ask you a question, if you're on trial for pederasty, do you want the Globe's editorial staff choosing a jury for you filled with midwestern farmers, or do you want a bunch of big-city academics who question authority and are willing to forgive pederast "idiosyncrasies"?

Advice on Luther's Commentary on Galatians

I own a copy of the Graebner translation of Luther's Commentary on Galatians published by Zondervan in the 1930s and available online at numerous sites, including CCEL.

But I'm looking for the best English translation out there. I'd rather it were a contemporary translation, so that tends to rule out the Kregel edition, leaving a modern language edition by Revell (translated, I believe, by Stuart Briscoe) and the Crossway Classic Commentary series version which gives no information about translator.

There's also an expensive recent version published by Sovereign Grace Publishers which, like the Crossway version, gives no clue as to translator, type of abridgement, etc.

If anyone has personal knowledge of the three modern editions (or thoughts on the modern translations vs. the Kregel edition, assuming you've compared them) I would appreciate receiving them.

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Check out the Poythress-Frame Web Site

If you haven't yet seen it, check out this web site containing a growing collection of the writings of John Frame and Vern Poythress. The ultimate goal of this site is to be as complete as possible a repository of these two professors who stand out for their irenic and humble, yet principled, approach to Reformed theology.

This site was established and is now being filled out with material gathered from Professors Frame and Poythress by Andrew Dionne, one of my colleagues at Christ the Word.

I would especially recommend to those who are unfamiliar with these men Professor Frame's relatively recent article, Machen's Warrior Children.

With a few potential caveats (primarily in the "Role of Women" portion which strikes me as unnecessarily descriptive rather than prescriptive), this view of what constitutes true Reformed essentials broadly represents where we wish to stand at Christ the Word.

The Death Industry and Hospice...

Over the months since we wrote from the hospice where Terri Schiavo was killed, I've noticed that whenever I write about hospice and the death industry there are some who assume that my opinions in these areas are the product of ignorance: I simply don't know the truth about hospice. On occasion they will kindly seek to inform me of the facts they assume I don't know. Other times they merely suggest that I try writing out of knowledge rather than ignorance.

So, not as a claim to expertise, but as a simple demonstration of my bona fides on these subjects, let me share a bit of history....

I was born into a family more nineteenth than twentieth century in several ways. The first and most obvious to casual observers was my parents' refusal to permit a television set in their home.

Second, and more formative though less obvious, was the mortality rate of the children in my family. Seven children were born alive, three still live today. One died shortly after birth of complications from surgery to treat a blocked intestine--the blockage itself was the result of cystic fibrosis. A second died of leukemia at age five. The oldest child in our family, Joe (a hemophiliac like myself), died of internal bleeding from a sledding accident while a sophomore in college. Nathan, the youngest in our family, died of esophageal carcinoma several years ago at age forty (brought on, I remain convinced, by the cystic fibrosis he had survived until that point).

4500 Miles in 15 Days, part 3...

Upon leaving Yellowstone we headed south to our final destination of Breckenridge, where we had rented a condo for our second week of vacation.

The trip out of Yellowstone wended through the Grand Teton National Park. The Grand Tetons are rugged, grand mountains. Pure power mountains--all angles, sharpness and snow.

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Snake River south of the Grand Tetons

South of Grand Teton National Park we passed through Jackson, Wyoming, a booming town which gives the impression of being at one and the same time, unspoiled, and on the cusp of overdevelopment. The Snake River, heading south through Jackson, was our companion for several hours. If I were to choose one place in the west for a vacation home, it might be along the Snake River.

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Playing in the Snake

South of Jackson we made a wrong turn and continued southwest for thirty miles along the Snake River instead of heading southeast toward Rock Springs. Our choice, when I realized my mistake, was between continuing almost to Salt Lake City where we would encounter an interstate or retracing our path. It was no sacrifice to head back up the thirty miles of Snake River roadside.

Waiting for Prairie Dogs, WY.jpg

Watching for prairie dogs near Jackson

Once we were back on track at Hoback Junction, scenery turned surly. Southwest Wyoming is high desert: lots of shrub, oil wells and brown. Not very attractive.

After stopping Friday night in Rock Springs, we continued to our cabin in Breckenridge the next day.

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God, our vindicator....

Update on the ICU incident...

They pulled the ventilator from the patient with meningitis the day following the confrontation over quality of life in his ICU room. And what did he do? To the consternation of many he began talking....

"I hurt," he said. "Where?" his family asked. "All over," he responded.

He kept talking throughout the day. And breathing, though, he's now on a no-codes order--required by the hospital to pull the ventilator.

Maybe soon they'll ask him if he wants to live. You know, the funny thing is, I've never yet had a person from my church respond in such circumstances, "No. Kill me. Starve me. Suffocate me." They've all said, "I want to live." Even those dying of terrible cancers. Even the hospitalized man paralyzed by a stroke and dying of bone cancer who just had his wife of fifty-five years die of a heart attack at home.

They may want to die in the abstract, but they've always chosen, when given the choice, life in the particular circumstances in which death is presented to them as an option. They want water. They want food. They want these things until they're unable to take them. And then they die--not by embracing death but by surrendering to it.

Euthanasia and Planting Evergreens...

Growing up in the Bayly home you knew it would be a bad day if it was planting day. Why? Because when Mud planted a piece of flora, she planted it for life. Every plant she planted was intended to live a full and fruitful existence. The bigger the plant, the more adamant Mud was that it get the right start.

And if you had the misfortune to be assigned a tree to plant, it would be a day you would remember the rest of your life. The proper hole for a tree, according to Mud, was an excavation at least twice the diameter of the rootball and a foot deeper. Nor was it enough merely to dig the hole. The soil from the hole had to be sifted for stones. Clods of clay had to be removed. Peat moss had to be added, along with fertilizer. Once the soil was prepared, the tree could be put in the hole. But even then, there was a mandatory and lengthy tamping process to the reinsertion of the fortified soil. And finally, lengthy, hours-long watering to cap the project.

There's a blue spruce by the front sidewalk of our childhood home that lingers bitter to this day in the memory of Tim who was forced to plant it in his teens. Mud's idea of a hole sufficient for a seven-foot rootballed blue spruce was an excavation project substantial enough to bury a 1974 Cadillac Eldorado. If that blue spruce ever dies, part of Tim goes with it....

So, as a seminarian in the early 80s who lived for reduced rent in a carriage house on the grounds of an estate in return for yard care, the last thing I wanted to do was plant trees. Yet that's precisely the job I was given one day by the owner. And not just one tree, but 20 evergreens with sticks in the ground around the yard marking the locations where the owner wanted them.

A two-day job, I thought in misery. But it was not so to prove. Tim's best friend, Mitch, was visiting from Boulder that weekend. We had planned a family trip into Boston on Saturday, but the evergreens were an obstacle to my going. I couldn't leave with that much work still undone in the yard. Mitch, however, was a horticulturist, the owner of a number of greenhouses, and he said, "Pshaw, you can come. I'll come over tomorrow morning and help you plant the trees."

And plant them we did--20 evergreens in well under two hours. When I told Mitch how Mud maintained trees should be planted he was disdainful: "Just dig a hole and throw them in," he said. "If one dies, buy another and replace it."

We had 20 trees in the ground faster than Mud would have planted one tree--and we enjoyed the rest of our day in Boston.

The difference, of course, between Mud and Mitch was that Mud plants trees only very occasionally, and then for a lifetime, while Mitch plants daily, many times daily, and then only to sell and plant again.

I've come to view the difference between those who deal daily with illness and death and the rest of mankind as akin to the difference between Mitch and Mud in the planting of trees.

Constant attendance upon the dying inures you to death. It changes your outlook on its horror. You tend to grow cavalier toward the value of suffering and the immensity of eternity. You are more willing to see death occur. Death becomes, in a sense, your currency.

Thus, it's inevitable as long as we have professions that specialize in the process of dying that those who work in such professions will be found at the cutting edge of society's acceptance of euthanasia. They become hardened to death. They come to view death as preferable to life with illness. Death is their business. It becomes a goal to them instead of a hated foe.

For this reason I increasingly question the value of the hospice movement and of medical specialties which deal primarily with palliative care for the dying. Death is an enemy, Scripture tells us. Those who love death hate God, Scripture warns.

But familiarity with death, constant immersion in death, changes us. At times, it leads young soldiers to do horrible things--things they would never have thought themselves capable of before becoming hardened to death. We recognize this and seek to deal with it in our training and post-combat care of soldiers. We understand that immersion in death can lead to insanity and atrocities. Why, then, do we assume that constant immersion in death is any less traumatic or harmful to hospice workers?

I'm increasingly convinced that death should be handled by those who don't live knee-deep in it all life long. It should be handled as my mother handles planting trees--as a major event, a traumatic event, an event done only once or twice in a lifetime.

By turning the process of death into businesses and professions, we have, I fear, created a monster. Take it back into the home. Take it out of the hands of the professionals. Treat it with the reverence and fear it deserves.

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