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Forgive Us For Our “Go-It-Alone” Attitude

Aug 31, 2014 | Trevin Wax

man-in-prayerHow overwhelming, our Father,
that You would show such care,
such love and kindness,
to bring us not only into relationship with Yourself through Christ,
but also into relationship with the local church!

Your corporate focus on us—
sanctifying us in Christ Jesus,
calling us “holy ones,”
and uniting us with the larger body of Christ,
reminds us that Your will for us intertwines with
all of those that Jesus has redeemed,
so that united together in the Body
we discover immeasurable joy and purpose.

So in the church, joined together in union with Christ,
we experience grace to walk faithfully,
enrichment to our speaking and understanding concerning Christ,
confirmation that we belong to You,
gifts for service until Christ returns
to present us blameless in His presence,
and fellowship with the Lord Jesus.

Consequently, we realize that our treating lightly the body of Christ
corresponds to neglecting Your choicest gifts.

Living with a focus on our individualism
instead of our relationship with the body of Christ,
shows how far we’ve strayed
from Your purposes in the redeemed.

Having that “go-it-alone” attitude
when facing difficulties and temptations,
neglects the very means You have given
to build us up in a most holy faith.

Forgive us of these sins of neglect and self-centeredness.
Enable us to know great joy as forgiven people,
united as followers of Jesus Christ. Amen.

- Phil Newton, based on 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

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Empires Fall as Victims of Their Own Proud Illusions

Aug 30, 2014 | Trevin Wax

jo1317aaIn proportion as a society relaxes its hold upon the eternal, it ensures the corruption of the temporal.

All earthly civilizations are indeed corruptible and must one day perish, the pax Britannica no less than the pax romana, and Christendom no less than Babylon and Troy.

But if most have perished prematurely, it was largely as victims of their own proud illusions.

And if our Western civilization is to prove more durable, it can only be in the strength of this more chastened estimate of its own majesty and this knowledge that “here we have no continuing city.”

- John Baillie, 20th century

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Know Your Southern Baptists: Philip Humber

Aug 29, 2014 | Trevin Wax

I know there is something greater, something more important than just what we are doing here on the field.  I'm thankful for the faith that I have. I want to share it with whoever wants to listen to me.Name: Philip Humber

Why you’ve heard of him: As a starter for the Chicago White Sox, he pitched a perfect game against the Seattle Mariners on April 21, 2012.

Position: Currently, Humber is pitching in the Oakland Athletics organization for their Triple A affiliate, the Sacramento River Cats.

Previous: Humber was selected third overall in the 2004 MLB draft by the New York Mets. In his major league career, he has pitched for the Mets, Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals, White Sox, and Houston Astros.

Education: He turned down an offer by the New York Yankees out of high school and chose to pitch for Rice University. He received numerous honors and recognitions during his time there.

In his sophomore season, he helped lead the Owls to their first national championship in any sport by pitching a complete game 14-2 win over Stanford University in the deciding game of the 2003 College World Series.

Why he’s important: A perfect game in baseball happens when a pitcher (or pitchers) win a game that lasts at least nine innings and never allows an opposing base runner. That means no hits, no walks, no errors. It has only happened 23 times in major league history (21 since the modern era began in 1900). Philip Humber, along with all-time greats like Sandy Kofax and Cy Young, is one of the pitchers to accomplish the rare feat.

A member of Green Acres Baptist Church, Humber’s faith became a topic of conversation after the perfect game. The Chicago Sun Times noted he had Colossians 3:23 inscribed on his glove. MLB itself did a story for their website on his mission trip to the Philippines. In relaying the impact the trip had on him, Humber said for his family he thought “instead of just taking a vacation to the beach or Disney World or something like that, we go and do something that actually has an impact on other people.”

You can watch a five minute video of all 27 outs in Humber’s perfect game or see the final out and the celebration here:

Notable Quotes:

“My career has been up and down, and if you play long enough, you are going to have a lot of ups and downs.”

“You have good days and bad days. Sometimes, you get a promotion; sometimes they invite you to leave. That’s just how life is for most people. Sometimes people separate sports because they’re just watching highlight shows.”

“We think we need stuff to be happy, but what we really need is relationships.”

“I know there is something greater, something more important than just what we are doing here on the field.”

“I’m thankful for the faith that I have. I want to share it with whoever wants to listen to me.”

Others in the “Know Your Southern Baptists” Series:

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Luke, Acts, and the Moral Vision of the Early Church

Aug 28, 2014 | Trevin Wax

006063796XI’m blogging through Richard Hays’ The Moral Vision of the New Testament over the next several weeks. In this introductory post, I laid out a reading schedule.

If you’re just joining us, don’t miss the post that sets the stage for how we understand the ethics of the New Testament, a summary of Paul’s moral vision, and last week’s post about the ethical vision of two Gospels – Mark and Matthew.

Today, we’re looking at the ethical vision we find in Luke-Acts, a morality that must be seen within Luke’s “larger vision for the people of God as the bearers of the fulfilled promise” in Christ (114).

The Gospel of Luke & The Acts of the Apostles

Christology: Luke’s view of Christ is primarily functional. He emphasizes what Jesus has done in bringing God’s salvation to the world.

  • The Spirit-Empowered Servant: Jesus is a prophet who is identified as God’s anointed one. His vocation is to proclaim good news to the poor (liberation and justice). His salvation will be for everyone whom God may call, including Gentiles.
  • The Prophet Like Moses: Unlike Matthew, Luke focuses more on Jesus’ resemblance to Moses’ prophetic liberation of God’s people and less on Moses’ teaching role.
  • The Righteous Martyr: Luke stresses the innocence of Jesus who dies as a model martyr.

The Church in the Power of the Spirit

  • Jesus as paradigm for the church’s ministry: The church is anointed by the Spirit to proclaim the gospel to all nations, and this proclamation includes the message of liberation.
  • The New Community: The church is the fulfillment of two ancient ideals – the Greek ideal of true friendship and the Deuteronomic ideal of the covenant community.
  • The Church and the Empire: The church turns the world upside down not through armed revolution but through the formation of the church as a counterculture, an alternative witness-bearing community.

Eschatology

  • The church in history: Luke’s emphasis shifts away from future expectation toward immediate mission.
  • The eschatological Spirit in the church: The Spirit supplies both power for the mission and very specific guidance.
  • Eschatological reversal: The cross overturns the world’s notions of wisdom and power.

7 Observations about Luke’s narrative world

  1. Luke offers a sense of orientation within time and history.
  2. An aspect of the church’s orientation in time is its direct continuity with Israel.
  3. The church is on a journey, an exodus to a promised destination not yet reached.
  4. Confidence in God’s providence leads to a positive, world-affirming vision.
  5. The affective tone is characterized by joy and praise.
  6. The Holy Spirit empowers the work and witness of the church.
  7. Where the Spirit is at work, liberation is underway.

Some Personal Considerations: Hays provides a good overview of the Lukan tradition and the distinctive elements of his vision. Unfortunately, Hays sometimes pits Luke against the other Gospels in distracting ways. (For example, he claims Luke’s “Jesus” quotes Psalm 31:5 instead of Psalm 22:1 from the cross because the starkness of the latter is inconsistent with Luke’s interpretation of Jesus.)

Where Hays is most helpful in his balanced approach to the church’s sociopolitical challenge in Acts, neither leaning too far towards anti-imperialism nor taking Conzelmann’s view that the church was docile and politically innocuous. There is an ongoing discussion about Jesus and empire, and Hays’ take on the picture we see in Luke-Acts avoids the sharper edges of that debate.

There is another element of Hays’ portrayal that deserves mention. He sees the apostles’ work in Acts as deliberately mirroring and carrying on Jesus’ work in Luke.

For example, Jesus’ raising of Jairus’ daughter in Luke 8 resembles Peter’s raising of Dorcas in Acts 9. Similarly, Stephen’s death in Acts 7 is modeled on Jesus’ death, and Paul’s resolution to go to Jerusalem recapitulates Jesus’ setting his face toward David’s city. Hays writes:

“The apostolic hardships of the Acts narrative can be read as the fulfillment of Jesus’ call to surrender everything and take up the cross in order to follow him” (122).

If this is so, then part of Luke’s ethical vision of imitating Christ is not expressed in commands, but by the narrative itself.

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Worth a Look 8.28.14

Aug 28, 2014 | Trevin Wax

WorthALook1Kindle Deal of the Day: The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture’s Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity $1.99.

Spreading from academia into mainstream media, the suggestion that diversity of doctrine in the early church led to many competing orthodoxies is indicative of today’s postmodern relativism. Authors Köstenberger and Kruger engage Ehrman and others in this polemic against a dogged adherence to popular ideals of diversity.

Baptist Press – David Platt Succeeds Tom Elliff as IMB President:

Platt, 36, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills, a Southern Baptist congregation in Birmingham, Ala., will take office effective immediately as president of the 169-year-old organization, the largest denominational missionary-sending body among American evangelicals. More than 4,800 Southern Baptist international missionaries serve worldwide. 

J. D. Greear – What David Platt’s IMB Presidency Signals About Our Future:

I want to deal with one objection to David’s presidency which I have heard raised, and suspect we will hear a lot in the next few days: though David and Brook Hills give an extraordinary amount to missions, they have not been leaders in giving to the Cooperative Program (CP), at least in a traditional sense. And so the question is, “How can a man who has not given a ton to the CP expect to lead others to give to it?”

Aaron Earls – Audacious, but Justified:

Asking someone to marry you is an outrageous request. We don’t think about it much, but you are asking a lot of the other person. When I asked my wife to marry me, I wasn’t just asking her to go to Applebee’s or play mini-golf. I was asking her to trust me with her life.

Eric Geiger – When it comes to leadership, character comes first:

When the apostle Paul challenged Timothy to reproduce himself in others, to broaden the number of leaders, and to hand ministry over to more people, he emphasized character over competence. He didn’t diminish competence, but he started with character.

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Revisiting Oswald Sanders’ “Spiritual Leadership”

Aug 27, 2014 | Trevin Wax

spiritual-leadershipLeadership books come and go; one batch quickly replaces another on bookstore shelves. Because of the urgent tone that runs through these types of books, their initial sense of immediacy contributes to their short shelf life, causing them to pass rapidly from the conversation and seem out of date, only later to be supplanted by books that make similar points in different ways. Rarely does a leadership book transcend the cultural moment in which it is born and offer counsel that is still relevant years or even decades after first appearing.

Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders is one of those rare books. First released in 1967, Spiritual Leadership has been through multiple printings and a major revision. It is hailed by some of the most well known names in evangelicalism, including John Maxwell and John MacArthur, an interesting combination since Maxwell represents a highly pragmatic stream of evangelicalism and MacArthur generally eschews pragmatism.

What makes Sanders’ book stand out, decades after its first release, is the breadth of topics it covers and the personal experience of its author. As the consulting director of Overseas Missionary Fellowship and a preacher who served in multiple countries, Sanders had the ability to see what leadership elements are spiritual in nature and thus transcend cultures. For this reason, even with the major cultural shifts we have experienced in the past forty years, Sanders’ work remains beneficial.

Sanders’ View of Leadership

Spiritual Leadership begins with a necessary chapter justifying a person’s ambition for leadership. It is a misinterpretation of the biblical teaching on humility that leads some Christians to resist leadership or influence (and Sanders, for the most part, equates leading with influencing).

The Ambition of Servanthood

Sanders argues for good ambition that is motivated by godly goals. “Ambition which centers on the glory of God and welfare of the church is a mighty force for good,” he writes (13). Those who aspire to leadership seek an honorable task. The church needs more leaders, not less, but the kind of leaders we need are “authoritative, spiritual, and sacrificial” (18).

Here, Sanders clues us in on the nature of Christian leadership and why the biblical understanding is unique. Spiritual leadership emphasizes servanthood, and the kind of service in view is one that yields to God’s sovereignty and is willing to endure suffering. Spiritual leadership and suffering go hand in hand.

Leadership Qualities

Next, Sanders turns to two apostles, Paul and Peter, and looks for insights into leadership from their lives and letters. He focuses primarily on the qualifications the apostles laid out for those who shepherd God’s people. Beginning with this list as a base and then adding other qualities for leadership he has discovered in his study of church history and in his observance of other spiritual leaders, Sanders lays out a number of essential qualities.

  • He starts with discipline, then explains the importance of vision, wisdom, and the importance of making decisions.
  • Next, he turns to the characteristics of courage, humility, integrity and sincerity.
  • Good leaders need to maintain a sense of humor, a righteous anger at wrongdoing and injustice, even as they cultivate patience, benefit from friendship, and tell the truth with tact and diplomacy.
  • Great leaders are able to inspire others to pursue the same vision, while at the same time, organize and execute the plans that lead to such a vision.
  • He adds two more qualities: the ability to be a good listener and the art of writing letters.

Once Sanders has worked through this list of essential qualities, he devotes a chapter to what is perhaps the most important quality for spiritual leadership: being Spirit-filled. Among all the other qualities, this is the one that is indispensable (77).

“All real Christian service is but the expression of Spirit power through believers yielded to Him” (80).

The reader should not assume this means the Spirit will override or replace a person’s natural leadership skills. Instead, the Spirit takes the natural gifts we have and then enhances and stimulates them, maximizing our effectiveness for the glory of God (81).

Leadership Disciplines

Next, Sanders discusses a number of personal disciplines that help the leader be effective. He begins with prayer, the discipline that highlights our dependence on God’s power and our need for the Spirit. To prevail in prayer is to have a right relationship with God that leads to unhindered communion and answered prayer (90).

Sanders encourages leaders to use their time wisely, avoiding activities that are spiritually detrimental. Not everyone will divide their days into five-minute periods, as Sanders shows John Wesley and F.B. Meyer doing, but a leader will at least take responsibility for whatever lies within the range of control (99).

Another necessary discipline is reading, which should always be closely connected to serious thinking. Offering strategies for getting the most out of reading, Sanders recommends that a leader see reading as “the outward expression of his inner aspirations” (104).

Growing in leadership is a continual process, which is why Sanders offers advice on how to improve one’s leadership skills. He is forthright about the cost of leadership and the heavy toll it takes on a person, including daily self-sacrifice, periods of intense loneliness, chronic fatigue, enduring criticism and rejection, feeling the pressure to succeed, and watching one’s leadership exact a cost from others.

Leadership Tests

In response to the cost of leadership, leaders are likely to fail when confronted with certain tests. Sanders warns against spiritual compromise, selfish ambition, and faithlessness regarding situations that seem at first to be impossible. The leader must learn how to go on in times of failure and how to avoid jealousy whenever a rival succeeds. The latter chapters in the book focus on the need for a leader to delegate responsibility and to leave the organization with a proper replacement.

“The ultimate test of a person’s leadership is the health of the organization when the organizer is gone,” he writes (143). How does one ensure that good spiritual leadership will continue? By reproducing leaders, all the while recognizing that leaders are not ultimately what the church needs. Instead, the church needs “saints and servants,” a need that reminds us of the spiritual dimension of leadership that runs throughout this book.

The book closes with two chapters that list various perils the leader faces (egotism, jealousy, popularity, infallibility, etc.) and leadership lessons from the life of Nehemiah.

Why I Changed My Mind About “Spiritual Leadership”

I first read Spiritual Leadership almost a decade ago. During my initial encounter with Sanders’ work here, I was relatively unimpressed. At that time, I wrote about the book not living up to the hype or the glowing reviews on the back cover.

The second time has been different, perhaps because I have some years of ministry and leadership under my belt and have learned many of these insights through experience. The longer I have been involved in ministry, the more I recognize Sanders’ insights to be basic and beneficial.

Strengths

The strength of Sanders’ book is its wide range of influences. I enjoy reading about leaders who have had significant influence and yet are not as well known today. Many of the names mentioned here are from Christian leaders a century ago, and yet their insights ring true even today. Sanders gives a high-level view of what spiritual leadership looks like, and this is the major strength of his book.

Weaknesses

The weakness of this book is due more to its format than to its content. Because the book was put together as a series of talks that were transcribed and compiled into chapters, it is uneven in places. At times, the book is repetitious. Jealousy is warned against as a “peril of leadership” in one chapter and then warned against as one of the “tests of leadership” in another.

There are several areas where Sanders asserts things as self-evident when they may, in fact, be contested. His description of friendship leads the reader to assume that great leadership demands an extroverted personality, and his description of the apostle Paul as a “gregarious man” (70) seems somewhat out of place, since one could make the case that his method of discipleship and friendship favors introversion.

Another assertion is in the section on prevailing prayer, where Sanders’ treatment could give the impression that unanswered prayer is always the result of broken fellowship, when the reality of God’s lack of responsiveness may be more complex. Also, in the chapter on time, Sanders’ zealous warnings against wasting our days could lead some to assume a life of perpetual work is what is required, without a proper balance of rest and recreation.

Conclusion

Overall, Spiritual Leadership is a classic for developing spiritual leadership. Its brevity and accessibility, along with its appeal to Scripture and examples of great leaders throughout history, make it a terrific place to begin reading about the uniqueness of Christian leadership. This is a book that gives the reader a good perspective on life and leadership and directs the reader’s passion to the glory of God and the good of His church.

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Worth a Look 8.27.14

Aug 27, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Worth a Look MagnifyingKindle Deal of the Day: The Disciple-Making Church: Leading a Body of Believers on the Journey of Faith by Bill Hull. $1.99.

Scripture places high priority on the disciplemaking capacity of the church, This book shows how to accomplish it.

Ross Douthat – Our Thoroughly Modern Enemies: ISIS in the 21st Century

The idea that America’s foes and rivals are not merely morally but chronologically deficient, confused time travelers who need to turn their DeLorean around, has long been a staple of this administration’s rhetoric. Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad and tyrants in general have been condemned, in varying contexts, for being on the dreaded “wrong side of history.” Earlier this year, John Kerry dismissed Putin’s Crimea adventure in the same language Obama used last week: “19th-century behavior in the 21st century,” foredoomed by its own anachronism. These tropes contain a lot of foolishness. Where ISIS is concerned, though, they also include a small but crucial grain of truth.

Can You See Too Much Jesus in the Bible?

Throughout history, Christians have affirmed that Jesus is the focus of Scripture. But one Bible scholar is being forced to take early retirement by a conservative seminary for seeing too much Jesus in the Old Testament.

An African-American former police officer reflects on Ferguson:

Until both the law enforcement and African-American communities are willing to own their mutual share of the blame that has created the problem, there won’t be a shared responsibility that will lead to the solution.

Tish Harrison Warren – The Wrong Kind of Christian:

I thought a winsome faith would win Christians a place at Vanderbilt University’s table. I was wrong.

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Tim Keller on the Disappearing Umbrella Over Conservative Christians

Aug 26, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Keller-219x300In a recent forum, “Conservative Christianity After the Christian Right,” Tim Keller predicted moderate growth of conservative evangelicalism even as the culture at large has grown more secular. In these remarks, he explains why these trends are leading to increasing polarization:

When I say “growing moderately,” I mean that the number of the devout people in the country is increasing, as well as the number of secular people. The big change is the erosion is in the middle. The devout numbers have not actually gone down that much. It depends on how you read them. But basically, they are not in freefall by any means.

You don’t so much see secularization as polarization, and what is really disappearing is the middle.

Keller sees the middle as having once leaned toward nominal Christianity, out of a sense of respect, tradition, or for social reasons. He says:

It used to be that the devout and the mushy middle — nominal Christians, people that would identify as Christians, people who would come to church sporadically, people who certainly respect the Bible and Christianity — the devout and the mushy middle together was a super majority of people who just created a kind of “Christian-y” sort of culture.

The mushy middle used to be more identified with the devout. Now it’s more identified with the secular. That’s all.

What does this mean for conservative Christians? Keller uses the analogy of an umbrella:

So what’s happening is the roof has come off for the devout. The devout had a kind of a shelter, an umbrella. You couldn’t be all that caustic toward traditional classic Christian teaching and truth. I spoke on Friday morning to the American Bible Society’s board. American Bible Society does a lot of polling about the Bible. The use of the Bible, reading the Bible, attitudes toward the Bible. They said that actually the number of people who are devout Bible readers is not changing that much.

What is changing is for the first time in history a growing group of people who think the Bible is bad, it’s dangerous, it’s regressive, it’s a bad cultural force, that was just never there. It was very tiny. And that’s because the middle ground has shifted, so it is more identified with the more secular, the less religious, and it’s less identified now with the more devout.

Later, he explains what the loss of this umbrella means for the devout:

The roof came off. That is, you had the devout, you had the secular, and you had that middle ground that made it hard to speak disrespectfully of traditional values. That middle ground now has not so much gone secular, but they more identified with this side. They are identified with expressive individualism, and so they don’t want to tell anybody how to live their lives.

And so what that means now of course is that the devout suddenly realize that they are out there, that the umbrella is gone, and they are taking a lot of flak for their views, just public flak.

He uses the White House’s rescinding an invitation to Louie Giglio as an example of the kind of flak conservative Christians are now experiencing:

And there was no doubt, by the way, the Louie Giglio thing, when he was sort of disinvited because of his traditional views on homosexuality from giving the invocation at the Inauguration, that was so clear. No matter how I add it up, I look at the mainline churches and I take out the quarter that are probably evangelical, my guess is that 80 percent of the clergy of this country would have some reservations about homosexuality — 75, 80 percent, something like that.

But what we were being told was that you are beyond the pale, not just that you’re wrong, but that respect for you is wrong. And so that was heard loud and clear in the conservative Protestant world. Loud and clear. It was enormously discouraging. It was sort of a sense of it’s not just that you’re going to disagree with us, but basically you are saying we really don’t even have a right to be in the public square.

So when you have, on the one hand, that kind of pushback in the public square because now the middle is with the secular rather than with the devout, you have both — more people from conservative Protestantism trying to get into the cultural industries than ever before, instead of just staying out and being in their own subculture; on the other hand, getting more pushback for their views than ever. What will happen?

I would think if you were in the media you would say this is a story, and I’m just going to have to keep an eye on it. Right now there is a tension between people wanting influence and people wanting to have less influence. And the end result is in doubt.

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Worth a Look 8.26.14

Aug 26, 2014 | Trevin Wax

WorthALook1Kindle Deal of the Day: Death by Living: Life Is Meant to Be Spent by N. D. Wilson. $0.99.

All of us must pause and breathe. See the past, see your life as the fruit of providence and thousands of personal narratives. What led to you? You did not choose where to set your feet in time. You choose where to set them next.

Danny Franks – Jen Hatmaker Ruined My Marriage:

Gather ’round children: I’m about to spin a tale that exposes the seedy underbelly of hip 70-s kids evangelicalism. For the last several weeks, husbands everywhere have been laid bare to a terror so insidious, so awful, so freakishly terrible, that I can’t bear to tell it. But tell it I must, because you must know. And knowing is half the battle.

What the Emmy Awards Could Learn from Full House:

“Full House” indeed recognized that the diversity of family, personality, and profession so often espoused by social liberalism are inescapable realities of life. But the show’s genius was that it did so without pushing the message that diversity was the teleological aim of human fulfillment, in contrast to many television shows today.

Instead, the ultimate aims in “Full House” were the permanent things: Happiness and love and a humble recognition of the limitations of human nature. Emmy Award-nominated shows could learn from it.

R. R. Reno on Ferguson and the Way Forward:

I think the script can be changed. It’s already changing. Juan Williams, Eric Holder—and the President of the United States—represent a different trajectory, one followed by many young black males today. Immigration for Africa and the Caribean is fundamentally reshaping what it means to be “African-American.” The time may come—and I hope soon—when the young black male no longer attracts the “special attention” of those committed to upholding our laws.

Os Guinness – The Danger of “Measurable Outcomes”

It is all too easy to get caught up in the sensational and forget the significant. Those who make this mistake miss the important for the urgent and become attuned to popular approval rather than divine authority. They count opinions rather than weigh them.

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