Sunday, July 21, 2013

You can't have it both ways: Circumcision as a Biblical sacrifice AND for "cleanliness"

I have heard this many times among those in the Christian community who are pro-circumcision.

The acknowledgement that circumcision is not required for salvation, however it is a sacrifice that is supposed to made.  AND that God MUST have known what He was doing, and required it for health and cleanliness reasons, because foreskin is dirty. Also, maybe He made foreskin, just as an "extra" so that it would be hanging there in order to be cut off, to fulfill His command (that one requires some Biblical gymnastics).

You can't have it both ways.  Arguing this point shows a lack of understanding about the word and meaning of "sacrifice", both in the Old Testament and New.

A sacrifice, in the Bible, was NEVER something meaningless. Never.  Otherwise, it would not be a sacrifice.  The Israelites were to give their BEST in sacrifice.  In Genesis, Abraham was asked to sacrifice his most beloved son, Isaac.  At the beginning of the book, Cain and Abel were asked, respectively, to sacrifice the best of their particular fields of work (animals, and crops).  For sacrifices in the temple, followers of Christ were to bring the best that they had to offer from their flocks. In Genesis 8, we see Noah offering the best of the clean animals and birds (which were those they were permitted to eat), as a sacrifice.  In Exodus 13:2, God requires the firstborn, both human and animal.  Culturally, firstborns were favored, with inheritance, birthright, and blessing.  The concept of "first-fruits" runs throughout Scripture-the idea that we are to give the first and best in sacrifice and thanksgiving to God.

The very fact that God required a cut "in the flesh of the foreskin" (Genesis 17:11) shows that foreskin is NOT just "extra skin", and that it is a valuable and useful part of the body. 

God Himself made the ultimate sacrifice.  John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosover believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting love".  The first.  The best.  The only.  That's sacrifice.

One thing that I know is true about God, and His character is that He is not haphazard, or random.  Throughout Scripture, nature, and many other sources we see God move with purpose and clarity.  He does not make mistakes.

I do not believe that God stepped outside of His character or own order when he used circumcision as a reminder and a sacrifice.  Given the information about the difference between OT circumcision and modern day medical circumcision,  the circumcision that HE required did not cause the severe issues that the circumcisions of our modern culture do. (1)

It is not an affront to God to point out the problems with modern, medical circumcision-they aren't in any way the same thing.

I do not believe that He screwed up when he made male infants, and that He suddenly realized in the Old Testament that part of their anatomy needed to be cut off in order for them to be healthy.  Not only does this not match up with current scientific evidence, it does not match up with a loving and perfect Creator.  Genesis 1:31 says that God looked at His creation, and declared that it was very good.  That included foreskin on a man.

Additionally, it does not match up with the intent of sacrifices to claim that God had people remove the foreskin for hygiene reasons.  It can NOT be BOTH a sacrifice, AND a dirty, nasty, diseased item.  Dirty, nasty, diseased, useless things were not appropriate sacrifices in the Old Testament.  Only the best was to be sacrificed.  You can not have it both ways.  It flies in the face of God's command, and His order to claim that the foreskin was BOTH a sacrifice and a liability. 

The Old Testament, and Hebrew Law was very comprhensive in talking about and making laws regarding "uncleanliness".  This included rules about everything from leprosy, to what they ate, to women's cycles.  (The majority of these are found throughout the book of Leviticus, but also referenced elsewhere throughout the Old Testament) Never in any of these laws is foreskin mentioned as unclean.

So, since it can not be both, which is the reason you are proceeding? Is it due to the fact you believe God requires this blood sacrifice, even post Jesus? Or is it because you believe the removal of the foreskin to be of medical benefit?

If your answer is sacrifice, I ask you to consider these Scripture:

Hosea 6:6 "For I desire steadfast love, not sacrifice. And acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings."

Proverbs 21:3 "Righteousness and justice are more acceptable than sacrifice"

Hebrews 13:16 "Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God."

The best sacrifices we can give are to give of ourselves-to do good, love others, love God, acknowledge Him and His word.  THIS is what is pleasing to God, not a blood offering.

Hebrews 10:11-14 " 11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

The New Testament makes it clear that Christ is THE SACRIFICE.  He is THE ONLY sacrifice that we need.  To add to that, or take away from it, is to completely deny the cross.  Praise God that He took the penalty, and erased all need for our own bloodshed (and the bloodshed of animals and babies) in order to be in communion with Him. 

Galatians 5: 1-6
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

The whole book of Galatians is lead up to, and proof of the lack of need for blood sacrifices for the New Testament believer.  Christ's death frees us from the Old Testament law (and I must ask, if you are keeping circumcision out of respect for the Old Law, are you also keeping the rest of the Old Testament law? Sacrifice of animals? Other OT laws?)  God, through Paul, makes it abundantly clear that the attempt to use circumcision as a sacrifice to gain favor with God flies in the face of grace.  

So, if not for sacrificial reasons, are you doing it because you think that God instituted the practice for medical reasons, and that it never was a sacrifice or sign at all? That is not what Scripture says.  In the New Testament, circumcision of the heart is referenced, which has led some to say that THIS is a sign that circumcision is right, because it signifies the cutting away of "bad stuff", so therefore, foreskin must be "bad stuff".  We have established that considering foreskin "bad stuff" opposes the theology that it was a sacrifice, so that is not a possible interpretation.  So what DOES it mean?

It means that God has always had a way of speaking to people in a way that they would understand.  "Circumcision" was a term that the people would understand as a "cutting".  (Literally to cut a circle).  The word circumcision in these passages is simply to indicate the cut. 

Additionally, even if one WERE to somehow deny circumcision as a sacrifice, and instead believe that circumcision of the Old Testament was for health benefits, the fact remains that modern science has proven that currently, it is NOT of any health benefit (2).  I think we all would agree that modern medicine is not equivalent to what was available in the Old Testament, and we have a number of ways to handle things that were not available at the time.  Though intact men and boys actually have less complications with their intactness (God knew exactly what He was doing!) than circumcised boys, if there IS ever a problem, the treatments available now are much different than what was available in the Old Testament.  But as noted, it does not make sense when looking at the character or nature of God, and the fact He considered His to be very good, AND in His image, to believe that He made men, then said "oops-that foreskin is gross-better cut it off". I submit to you that He does not make mistakes, and that the circumcision that HE required never had to do with "dirt".

We can't have it both ways.  We can not use the Bible to justify our culture, yet deny Scripture itself, and the character of God itself, in order to make our point.  These two ideas are a complete clash of theology, and both ideas can not be held in conjunction with one another. Circumcision as BOTH a Biblical sacrifice and a health benefit is literally not possible.

1. Is Cirumcision the Christian thing to do?
The difference in diagram
Differences described
Biblical Circumcision Information

2. Assumed Medical Benefits of Circumcision
Dr. Sears, No Medical Benefits to Circumcision 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Is Circumcision the "Christian" Thing to Do? by Crystal Lutton

I asked my friend, Crystal Lutton to write this post for me.  Crystal is a rabbi and pastor at the Shema Congregation, and is a Messianic Jew.  She is also a published author, wife, and mother.  

Is Circumcision the "Christian" thing to do? by Crystal Lutton

Yes, God commands circumcision.

Deuteronomy 10:16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.

Deuteronomy 30:6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

Except the debate that goes on around us in the modern world is about circumcising the flesh.

What is the big deal about circumcision?  It happens to be one of those issues that gets debated on mommy blogs, has entire websites devoted to doing it and not doing it, has spawned movements, and has resulted in the threat of divorce from those who support it and are opposed to it.  But what’s the big deal?  Is there really anything to be fighting about?

I’ll leave the issue of Routine Infant Circ (RIC) to others - except to say that some doctors refuse to perform RIC and I have yet to encounter any compelling information supporting RIC. At this point the largest reason I hear for people circing their sons is to have them look like daddy - which I would like to point out would utterly change in one generation if this generation would say no - the next generation would be avoiding circ so that Junior could look like his father.  I do want to be very clear, however, that RIC does not fulfill any aspect of the Biblical circ and should you convert to Judaism you would still need to be pricked to shed blood.

Which leads me to what I do want to discuss --- what the Bible actually says about circumcision and whether Christians need to do it.

According to Genesis 17:24 Abraham was 90 years old when he was circumcised.  And Romans 4:12 points out that it he is the father of our faith - a faith he had before he was circumcised.  It was in Genesis 17 that God had a heart to heart with Abraham and said this (vs 10):

“This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised”

He goes on to say that this circumcision is to be done on the 8th day and includes those born to him and his descendants, those bought from a foreigner or in their home as indentured servants.  Born by blood or bought with your money, if they are living in your home the males must be circumcised.  Verse 14 gives insight into how serious an issue this was to be:

“Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant."

We see this being very important when we get to the Exodus and we are told that no one is allowed to eat the Passover Lamb who has not been circumcised.  This is because only those who have truly converted to Judaism are going to be allowed to be in the homes protected by the Passover Lamb’s blood, and only those who have truly joined up with the Jewish people are going to be allowed to join them in the Exodus and be with them when they are made a Nation.

Circumcision was introduced as an outward sign that you were going to eventually possess a circumcised heart and become part of God’s Kingdom.  If you were not circumcised before joining God’s Kingdom, that circumcision of the flesh was the external sign that you were now sporting a circumcised heart.  It was the last step of conversion to Judaism.  Without it you were a God-fearer, with it you were a convert with full rights and status.  But I don’t want to make it sound like things are all cut and dried (no pun intended).  There was discussion between God and Abraham over whether circumcision was needed (and Abraham was allowed to go from age 48 when he responded to God’s promise of a covenant until he was 90 and was circumcised), and between different Jewish sects over what is required of the proselyte.

What exactly is this circumcision?  What does it mean?  You might recognize the root for “circle” - also seen in circumference, or the measure of the distance around a circle.  There is also the root for “cut” - also seen in incision.  So we have a command to cut a circle.  And we know from study of this issue and especially from Zipporah’s faithfulness with Moses’ son, that the circle was cut in the foreskin.

What was actually commanded was to cut the tip of the foreskin off.  The foreskin is a large piece of skin that hangs down over the head of the penis anywhere from a short distance to quite a large amount.  The average RIC removes approximately a postcard size piece of skin. But the command wasn’t to remove the foreskin - it was to cut a circle in the foreskin - or remove the tip.  In fact, the practice was to remove the tip of the foreskin until around the time of Paul and the Romans.  

Paul speaks of removing the marks of circumcision, and “uncircing” is a practice to this day involving hanging weights from the foreskin to try and lengthen it and recreate the covering of an uncirc’d penis.  At the point he was teaching it was a big deal to be circumcised if you wanted to go to the gymnasium or the bathhouses because the Romans viewed circumcision as mutilation.  It was not uncommon for Jewish men to try and lengthen their foreskin or hide the marks of their circumcision.  The response of the Rabbinic community was to alter the style of circumcision and remove more foreskin - making it harder to fit in outside of the Jewish community.

Paul’s response to the issue is quite different. He says, “Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision.”  This is because Paul was navigating something amazing and new that God was doing - God was welcoming the former Gentiles into His Kingdom!

Paul was navigating the coming together of different classes, different races, different people of different backgrounds as they all responded to the promises of salvation through Jesus.  Those who came Jewish were told to stay Jewish. Those who came as non-Jews were told to not get circumcised - God had accepted them as non-Jews and it was okay to remain non-Jews.  

The Jerusalem Council agreed with him!  Peter had already had his vision where God made it clear to him that the Gospel was going to the Nations - the non-Jews.  The non-Jews who accepted Jesus were being called clean by God!  The Jerusalem Council did not require circumcision for those who were becoming part of this new and expanding community.

And yet we continue to debate this in 2013!

I understand those who are born Jewish and want to know whether circumcision is still required for their children. It is an ancient tradition and there is something amazing about being part of a tradition commanded by God for those who are born as descendants of Abraham.  There is debate within the Jewish community about the modern practice of circumcision and there are ceremonies that can be found online for blessing ceremonies that don’t cut the flesh. For those who want to undergo brit milah and have a Biblical circumcision, I recommend talking to a mohel about the actual practice.  To this day there are three types of circumcision which each remove a different amount of skin.  Talk about removing the least skin possible.  There was even a Rabbinic allowance for those babies who might have bleeding disorders. They were allowed to have only one prick of the skin because a single drop of blood was considered enough to have cut the covenant.  As with all things I advocate doing your research and determining exactly what you want done to your son.

I understand those who have embraced a Messianic approach to worship where, regardless of your nation of birth, you have embraced a Torah observant lifestyle.  While Paul and the Jerusalem Council were insistent that you need not be circumcised to be part of the Kingdom People, there is a place for discussing whether, now that you are part of the Kingdom People, this command to circumcise your males on the 8th day applies to you.  This is something that you must work out between you and the Lord and please do not let anyone try to dictate what you will do with your sons.  If you do determine to have them undergo brit milah, please see my encouragement above to speak to a mohel and pursue a ceremony involving the least removal of foreskin.  I do not believe that God ever intended men to lose their foreskin completely, even where shed blood was supposed to mark their inclusion in a covenant people.

I do not understand the debate among those who do not embrace living according to Torah and who are not blood descendants of Abraham.  There is absolutely no command for the Nations to be circumcised.   A RIC does not satisfy the requirements of Biblical circumcision.  

*For more information about the history of circumcision you can read here

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Healthy newborn in NICU following circumcision

This literally turns my stomach.  I have a knot in my throat, and tears. 

I have learned from a friend of a little one she knows who has been fighting for his life after his circumcision surgery.

He was a healthy, full term, newborn baby  boy.  Perfect and loved.

His circumcision, done not for medical, nor religious reasons, nearly killed him.

He spent several days in the NICU on life support.

He has lost a good portion of his penis.

His adult sexual function will be altered.

He is days old, and has already had to have a surgery (in addition to his circumcision surgery) and there are many more in his future.

Friends, this is preventable.

All this happened, to this precious child, for no reason.

This HAPPENS.  It happens to real people.  To real babies.  Innocent babies who have not asked, nor do they need cosmetic surgery on their genitals.  It could happen to your baby. 

Please don't risk it.  It's not worth it.

That's all I can say about that.  Pray for this child.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Obvious Choice for an Unconventional Dad: By Chad B.

The Obvious Choice for an Unconventional Dad

I am not the norm when it comes to dads in my area. Being an atheistic, vegan who practices attachment parenting and baby wearing, who makes his own laundry detergent, among other household cleaners, uses cloth diapers and has a scent-free home does not fit in with the average Chattanoogan guy who loves football and beer and couldn’t give a crap about all that other stuff. I am so crunchy, you can practically smell the granola from here, can’t you?

But I wasn’t any of these things until my wife was pregnant with our first child. It all started with my wife deciding to have a natural home birth. Once you start down that road, you will end up eating tofu grinders at
Sluggo’s eventually, just like we did. We began to question the way we look at most things, including our diet, the products we use in our home, how we want to relate to our kids, to spank or not to spank, etc. At first we thought our first child was a boy. (Turns out she was a wonderful and maddening little girl, who I can’t imagine life without.) So of course my wife began educating me about circumcision.

To me, circumcision had always been an elective surgery. I had never believed any of the false claims that it magically cures or prevents things like cervical cancer, HIV or masturbation. It was just a matter of how you want your junk to look. Turtleneck or crew. My dad was the only son of three who was left intact and he disliked the teasing and feeling of otherness so much that he determined to not pass that on to me, so I was circumcised.

Well, it didn’t turn out quite like he expected. I am still unclear to this day what exactly happened. Was it a botched surgery? Was my genital aftercare subpar? Why did it heal the way it did? As a result of my circumcision, I was left with some confusing scar tissue and I was never sure why my penis looked different from that of my peers. I mean, from the looks of things, I definitely wasn’t intact. But I didn’t really look circumcised either. I was far too embarrassed to ask about it when I was a teenager, so it wasn’t until I was an adult that I finally had the wherewithal to find out. It appears that it was, for whatever reason, the way that my circumcision was allowed to heal that left me looking a little different than the rest.  I found this out around the time my wife was pregnant with our first child, so I soured immediately on the idea of circumcision before much reading or research was done. Since it is elective, there is no reason to risk it.

Of course, I have many reasons to choose to leave my son intact. Pain of the procedure, risk of surgical site infection or even death, deprivation of sexual pleasure and overall function, etc. But mainly, I find that now the most important reason I am against circumcision is that I don’t feel I have the right to deprive this little person of a choice. My dad has the option of altering himself if he so chooses. I do not. It feels very wrong to me to consider altering a baby’s sexual organs and not allowing him to come to his own conclusions about his body.

I have come a long way from where I was, but to me, all these decisions I have made and am making about my life and my family just seem right, good and true. There isn’t much more to say than that.