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How Honest Are Christians Today?

Last year, this question was posed as a survey element to Christians: “What is the biggest struggle currently facing Christianity?” One of the answers (from a man who identified himself as David Tuma of the US) was:  “Honesty. I see it more and more each year a lack of respect of your fellow man. How can you can you get dishonest people to become Christians. Christianity is about doing the right thing. Some of the people going regularly to church might be a little surprised with they get to the pearly gates to find them locked. It is difficult for some people to go to church because they know what the people inside the church do when they are outside of church. The world is a great place and life is so much fun but honesty in people is something very difficult to find.”

Of course this is not a problem unique to Christians.  A recent survey documented that: “More than two-thirds of people have stolen stationery from work, copied CDs for friends, or kept quiet when undercharged in shops, a study by British criminal lawyers shows. Meanwhile, significant numbers confessed they would make fraudulent insurance claims, deceive people online and plagiarize Internet articles for college assignments if the chance arose. Others said they would steal DVDs or use a colleague’s account to shop online.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2009/sep/07/survey-lawyers-honesty-public-attitudes)

Christians, though, have the obligation to be honest in three ways: We are honest or dishonest with ourselves, we are honest or dishonest with each other (and with non-Christians), and we are honest (or dishonest) with God.

Most of us try to project the best image we can to others, no matter what is going on inside.  Certainly, professional confidence (“con”) artists are experts at projecting a false image of integrity and honor.  But I have often thought that those we find most easily fooled and most gullible are ourselves.  When we are not completely honest with ourselves, it is impossible to be completely honest with anyone else.  The New Life Translation of the Bible (a version I rarely use) renders Romans 12:3 this way: “Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.”  I remember a painful conversation with a very dear family member some years ago, who insisted that after she accepted the Lord as her Savior, she never sinned.  When I pointed out that even small things like over-eating were sins, she literally burst into tears.  (Anyone who knows me knows that overeating is a sin I struggle with every day – I wasn’t trying to condemn this person at all, or sit in judgment.  My point was that all of us sin – even after we have become Christians.  Honesty – especially honesty with ourselves, is the foundation of a healthy self-image and a healthy relationship with God.  It is impossible to confess and repent of sins that we don’t even acknowledge to exist.

We are faced with honesty as a conundrum frequently in business.  It’s not even a case of deliberately trying to mislead someone; often it’s simply a case of not wanting to make a situation more complicated or drawn out than it needs to be.  For example, if I get a call at home from a telemarketer and I know it’s a telemarketer and she is asking whether my wife is home, I usually say “No”.  Is it dishonest?  Absolutely.  Does it save me from another 5 minutes of tedious sales-resisting conversation, either for myself or for my wife? Absolutely.  Sure, I could go through the entire: “Who’s calling please?”  This is Sally Jones calling.  “Who are you with, Sally?”  Well, I have some information for Linda.  “What kind of information would that be, Sally?”  and so on conversation.  This is a pretty benign example.  Let’s take one that is not so benign:

“You cannot say you are Sally’s supervisor.”

“Of course I am Sally’s supervisor.  I wrote Sally’s job description.  I interviewed Sally on the phone, and made the hiring decision.  I determine what Sally does as my Administrative Assistant every day.  I review her work and instruct her on corrections when they are needed.  I realize she is a contractor, but by any dictionary definition I am not only her supervisor, I am the only person whop supervises her and I do it all day every day.”

“You are not Sally’s supervisor.  The contract I wrote for Sally that she is working under is not a personal services contract – it is a professional services contract.  If you supervise Sally, you are in violation of our contract.  We could well be audited, and be found in violation of contract regulations.  I need you to write an e-mail to her contracting company telling them that you are NOT her supervisor.  Otherwise I will have to remove her immediately.”

“As I said in our telephone call, I will not state anything that is inaccurate or untrue.  I am Sally’s supervisor – I am the only person within a thousand miles who supervises Sally.  If you state that it is necessary for me to say something other than the truth, I will not comply.  It would be preferable to have you remove Sally.”

In this situation, being honest could do real damage to one’s career.   And I speak from experience when I say that it happens all the time.  Frankly, even if it was not a tenet of Christianity, it’s a moral code and a code of professional business ethics.  But for Christians, this is an especially painful and bitter experience because it goes to the core of who we are.  In John 4:6, Jesus said: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No man comes to the Father except by Me.”  Jesus is the Truth.  And because we profess to be followers of Jesus Christ, He expects us to be truthful as well, representing Him in this present world.  Speaking for myself, I am not as consistent as I should be in this area; not even close.  I strongly suspect that other Christians suffer from the same condition.

Not long ago, I had made a promise to a colleague that I would send him a report from work my team had performed in central Afghanistan on a certain day.  When the day come around, we had been pummeled with competing priorities all day, and so I remained behind until about 10 PM to get it done and into his e-mail in-box.  Nothing really would have been different had it been a day later, but I would have known, and so would my colleague.  As I said in my e-mail when I sent it off that night: “I’ve been working on this since we got back, and so have not had a chance to allow it to “cool” and come back to it as I should have before sharing it.  However, I know you and the boss are eager to see what we found, and I’m just one of those ‘a promise is a promise’ guys.”  Perhaps it’s less about honesty than reliability in this case, but the fact is that when we don’t deliver on our promises, we make ourselves liars because we have promised things that turn out to be untrue.  Even if we had the best of intentions, it sends a clear message that we cannot be trusted.  This, of course, is why trial lawyers work so hard to prove any small element of a testimony to be untrue when the witness supports the opposition.  If the jury can be made to believe the witness has lied about any point, no matter how trivial, then they are likely to lose trust in the witness entirely, devaluing anything else that witness has to say.  In the same way, Satan does his best, I believe, to undermine the credibility of Christians by pressing on our natural human character flaws, destroying our credibility wherever he can.  To incriminate the Christian throws doubt on the Lord we follow.  God has emphasized the importance of truth throughout the Bible – Old Testament and New.  For example, Exodus 20:16 says “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor”.  Other passages include: Timothy 2:2, 1 Thessalonians 4:12, Romans 12:17, 2 Corinthians 8:21, and Acts 6:3.  When Christians lie, we defame God.

So what do we do – do we really ALWAYS have to tell the truth?  The Bible would indicate that we do.  However, in my own case – and I am, as I have said, FAR from a model to follow, this is a struggle.  I am frequently admonished for being a little TOO truthful in certain situations – but I suspect that what is meant in many of these cases is simply that I offer information (truthful information) when I wouldn’t be required to speak at all.  Sometimes the truth is painful to others, and that always makes things tricky.  Tact has never been my strong suit either; I guess that’s one more thing to pray for help with.

I’d be very interested to hear the thoughts of other Christians on this matter;  What do you think?

 

 

Truth or Consequences: The Cost of American Apathy

An interesting group of articles related to the current spiritual condition among Christians in America has surfaced over recent months. Among them are an article called “The Public Consequences of Religious Apathy” by Ken Connor of the Center for a Just Society, and an underpinning article that Connor refers to from USA Today entitled “Survey: 72% of Millenials ‘more spiritual than religious’.”

The second article, published in USA today is built on the work of LifeWay Christian Resources, (Thom Rainer, President). The overarching result of a study performed by Lifeway, doing telephone interviews with 1,200 18- to 29-year-olds is that 72% say they’re “really more spiritual than religious.”

The Connor article points out that, as Francis Schaefer stated in his 1981 “Christian Manifesto”, “the gradual shift away from a Judeo-Christian (or at least a Creationist) worldview towards a materialistic view of reality has broad sociological and governmental implications for western society.” My observation has been consistent with Mr. Connor’s thesis. I see it on several fronts:

  1. Certainty of Doctrine: One of the findings coming out of the LifeWay study is that among professing Christians, many are unsure that Jesus is the only path to heaven; roughly half say yes and the other half say no. Clearly these folks have never read or else do not believe what the Bible teaches: “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Timothy 2:5), and “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6). The Bible is clear, and Christ was especially clear. Christianity means following Christ. If one believes Christ, then there is only one path to Heaven, and He is it.
  2. Desire to Worship: Another finding from the LifeWay study was that 65% of professing Christians rarely or never attend worship services. This is an especially interesting point to me. The desire to worship is, in my experience, a natural instinct when one loves God the same way one desires to flatter and please anyone in their lives that they love. Yet many Christians, myself included (which is why this point is of special interest to me) really struggle with going to formal worship services these days. Why is that? For me, a lot of the church services – especially in the larger “megachurches” have become far too akin to rock concerts. They provide entertainment, and an opportunity for people to wave around with raised hands like reeds blowing in the breeze. Hymns of the faith which were brimming over with doctrinal relevance and depth have been replaced by what someone I know refers to as “7-11 music”; the same 7 words repeated over and over – at least 11 times. I know there are times for repetition, and a couple of the most meaningful and powerful spiritual songs I have ever heard have a lot of it – like the Hallelujah Chorus, for example. But come on, how many times can you sing out “My God is an Awesome God” before you have to sign up as an official Valley Girl? And the whole raising of hands and swaying around thing (with sincere apologies to my Pentacostal friends, many of whom I am sure are more devout than I will ever be) is just uncomfortable for an old school Baptist; frankly it feels like calling attention to one’s self rather than to God, and reminds me of the Bible passage: “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” (Matthew 6:5) OK, I’m just a stick in the mud. But I miss the old hymns and the less pew-demonstrative worship styles. My parting shot on this point is simply to quote Mr. Rainey, the President of LifeWay: “We have dumbed down what it means to be part of the church so much that it means almost nothing, even to people who already say they are part of the church.”
  3. Centricity: It seems to me that for many of us who are professing Christians, our spiritual lives are much more about what makes us feel good these days and much less about sacrifice, service to Christ, and service to others. The emphasis seems to be on experiencing God’s blessings (nothing wrong with experiencing blessings) and less on what we need to do in order to experience them. It’s like some of the pyramid scheme marketing overtures I have heard: “Just think about it: It will only take signing up 10 of your friends, and you can be a millionaire within a year. Let’s talk about the ways that you want to spend all that money!” They never focus on the fact that you have to get your friends to sign up their friends, and all of you have to turn into super sales people to make the scheme work. It has been my observation that few very devout Christians are millionaires – and that has always made a lot of sense to me, since Christ Himself was basically penniless. But few of us want to live the lives of the Disciples, who were commanded by Jesus to leave their families and their businesses and follow Him. (This brings us into stark contrast with biblical guidance all over the place; one clear example is 1 Corinthians 10:33). And that brings me to my last point: Depth of Commitment.
  4. Depth of Commitment: WARNING: I DEPART IN THIS PARAGRAPH FROM ALMOST EVERYONE. BRACE YOURSELF. I probably should have called this section “Shallowness of Commitment.” I cannot find any biblical text which tells us as Christians: “Go ye therefore, and be the best (fill in the blank here with your own occupation – car salesman, manufacturing engineer, business analyst – whatever) there ever was, and thereby glorify God.” What Jesus did in His own life here on Earth was call disciples and followers to leave everything – their jobs as fishermen, doctors, etc., their families, and all of their other responsibilities – EVERYTHING – and follow Him. There are several descriptions of this of course, but some of the clearer ones include Matthew 4: 18-25, and Mark 1:12-22. So as I was saying, I find no biblical evidence that God wants any of us who profess to believe in and follow Christ to be school teachers, politicians, lawyers, doctors, truck drivers or hotel managers. What I do find is this very clear and direct instruction from Jesus Christ Himself: “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matthew 28:18-20). That’s it in a nutshell. That’s exactly what Jesus said to those of us who choose to follow him. Not “Go ye therefore to Harvard”, or “Go ye therefore and win the lottery”, or “Go ye therefore and be an entrepreneur.” Nope. According the Gospels, Christians were left here on Earth following Christ’s ascension into heaven for one purpose – to convince others to follow Christ before He returns to Earth, and announces GAME OVER: “And He said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. And when He had spoken these things, while they beheld, He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven. (Acts 1:7-11).  So here we are, primarily going about our business being doctors, lawyers, salespeople, actors, and so on, trying to work in a little worship on Sunday and among the most devout, leading the youth service or song service at church, and thinking that pretty much covers it. As long as we attend services, contribute financially, and so on the pastor pretty much leaves us alone, and we feel pretty good about ourselves. But as nearly as I can tell from an honest and unbiased reading of Jesus’ words, what the vast majority of us (please note that I include myself here) are doing doesn’t even come close to what we were clearly and directly instructed to do with our lives. That’s increasingly OK, though, because according to the LifeWay survey results, few people actually know what the Bible says anyway, because 67% of professing Christians don’t read the Bible.

So the upshot of all of this that I am not surprised at all that professing Christians – especially younger ones – are now saying that they are “more spiritual than religious”, and that fewer and fewer are attending church and reading the Bible. It’s easier, and we are increasingly a culture that follows the path of least resistance.

As to Connor’s point that a materialistic view of reality has broad sociological and governmental implications for western society, I guess it would be pretty silly to think that it doesn’t. Marriage doesn’t necessarily mean a man and a woman any more. We cannot legally pray in public schools any more. We can’t be considered politically correct if we admit that the winter holidays exist because of Christmas, and that Christmas exists because we celebrate the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. George Washington said: “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible. In 1782, the United States Congress passed a resolution that read: “”The Congress of the United States recommends and approves the Holy Bible for use in all schools.” John Hancock and John Adams wrote: “We recognize no sovereign but God, and no King but Jesus.” Adams also said: “I have examined all religions, and the result is that the Bible is the best book in the world.” There are hundreds of quotes like these that make clear the intent of most of our nation’s founders. One of my favorite recent quotes in this area is comprised of the words of Ronald Reagan: “I believe with all my heart that standing up for America means standing up for the God who has so blessed our land. We need God’s help to guide our nation through stormy seas. But we can’t expect Him to protect America in a crisis if we just leave Him over on the shelf in our day-to-day living.

Thank you, Mr. President.  I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Happy Fathers Day – To the Father Who Deserves it Most

Many inspiring stories are recorded about fathers throughout history.  Here is a story I’d like to relate, not because it is a great story or because I tell it extremely well; It just happens to be a contemporary account that I know to be true, and it seems like a good way to commemorate Father’s Day – especially since I am in Afghanistan, and can’t get back home to hug my own children this year.

We were living in Phoenix, Arizona around 1994, and my son Adam was playing with the neighbor kids.  I, my wife Linda, and my daughter Erica were all working outside – I think I was mowing the grass in front of the house, and Linda was working around the pool out in back.  As it turns out, Adam and his neighborhood friends were playing Army or something like that.  Adam – being a 10-year-old boy with no significant amount of fear – had been walking around on the top edges of the cinderblock walls that separate the properties of the homes in that neighborhood.  This of course provided him with an excellent vantage point for surveying “enemy” forces, and so on.    And Adam, who inherited the exceptional hand-eye coordination and dexterity of his mother, had no issue at all with walking around atop the 5-foot-tall cinderblock walls for a long period of time.  However, Adam made one mistake.  When it came time for him to descend, he decided to do so by stepping down onto the bright blue plastic recycle bin in our next-door neighbor’s yard.   As it happened, the bin was empty.  The front of the bin was mounted on wheels.  The combination of these two factors, when Adam’s weight came down atop the bin, resulted in the bin shooting out from under him, ejecting Adam face-down onto the concrete stoop outside the door of the neighbor’s garage.

When I arrived on the scene a few moments later, I found Adam covered in the blood gushing from his mouth, one front tooth broken off, and the other front tooth root-and- all – laying on the concrete beside him.  It was a mess.  I carried him inside, trailed by 12 year old Erica carrying the tooth, and got to work cleaning him up while Linda looked up the dentist’s phone number and hurriedly made the call; Then she handed me the phone, and raced from the room in order to avoid feinting at the sight.  The dentist told me: “First put the tooth in a glass of milk and swish it around in there for a minute.  Then you are going to have to push the tooth back into the open socket in his gum.”

“Are you kidding?” I said in incredulity, “I’m no dentist, and I have no anesthetic here.”

“I know”, he responded, “but this has to be done within 15 minutes or the socket in his gum is going to swell closed, and that tooth will be lost permanently.  You don’t have time to get here, and you have no choice.  It’s going to hurt like crazy, so get your wife to hold his head still while you replace the tooth.  You have to push it in hard – all the way up into the socket – or it won’t work.”

Glancing furtively into the other room where my wife had fled, I realized that wasn’t an option.  She cannot deal with the sight of blood.  12-year-old Erica was what I had to work with, and so Erica it was.  I positioned Erica behind Adam who was seated in a kitchen chair, and had her hold her very distraught younger brother’s head clamped tightly back toward her against the back of the chair.  Then I pushed the tooth back into position.  That took real courage on the part of a 12-year old girl, but I never doubted for a minute that Erica had it in her.  It hurt Adam so badly that he not only screamed as it was done, but basically convulsed from the pain and fell into a state of shock as soon as it was over.  He was shaking like a leaf, and too weak to stand.  I carried Adam out to the car, and we all headed for the dentist’s office.  The dentist met us and took over from there.  Adam was barely able to wobble out of the dentist’s building an hour or so later.

Pushing that tooth back into the bloody socket in Adam’s mouth, understanding the level of pain I was inflicting on the son I loved as dearly as I love anyone in this world, was one of the most difficult experiences of my life.  I would have taken that pain on myself a dozen times rather than inflict it on him if I could have.  It’s hard to imagine, even looking back on it now, how we got through that experience.  I think we all learned some things that day.  Oh, I don’t mean that Adam learned not to walk around atop 5-foot-tall cinderblock walls, although he certainly hasn’t tried that again.  No, the lessons we learned that day were more profound.

There are a lot of things that we know intellectually but never REALLY know until we experience them.  Adam’s trust in his dad to do the right thing – the best thing for him – in spite of the fact that it hurt like no pain he had ever experienced in his lifetime – was something I would never have believed possible.  He sat there in that chair and gripped the arms and screamed – but he never fought me or tried to make me stop.  He trusted me to do what was required, in spite of the pain.  My ability to inflict such pain on my own son, blinking back tears as I pressed that tooth home, in order to rectify the mistake he had made and make him as whole again as possible, validated what I had known intellectually but never had to demonstrate before; that I would pay any price required for the people that I love.  Especially my children, because that’s what a father does.  That’s what a father is.

When I reflect on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary, I can scarcely take in the sheer magnitude of the love displayed by God the Father for each of us.  God, in order to overcome the sin of mankind, was required to inflict incredible pain – watch His own Son being beaten, stabbed, ridiculed, and essentially murdered as He was literally nailed to the cross in order to redeem all the rest of us, His adopted children.  (See Matthew Chapters 26 and 27.)  Like my only son Adam, the Bible makes it clear that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God.  For God to allow that to happen says more about His love for us – for YOU – than any of us can begin to comprehend.  At the end of the crucifixion, God the Father literally had to turn away from the scene; He could no longer stand to witness what was being done to His Son Jesus (see Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34.)  The pain for both of them was simply beyond human comprehension.

So “Happy Father’s Day!” to all of you Dads out there.  And especially to the heavenly Father we so often neglect to thank for the sacrifice He made on Calvary so that we could escape the everlasting punishment that we brought on ourselves.

How Should Christians Respond to Islam?

In response to a recent web article entitled: “The Biggest Struggle Currently Facing Christianity”, one reader who identified himself as Andrew Jones from the UK said: “Our biggest issue is our response to Islam.” With all of the news hitting mainstream press avenues over recent months, and a US Congressional investigation under way regarding the recruiting of radical Muslims in the United States even the Gallup polling organization has begun monitoring this area. Recent Gallup polls indicate that 52% of Americans say congressional hearings in this area are appropriate.

Christianity still holds a substantial lead over Islam in terms of the number of adherents, with Christianity having over 2 billion members, compared to 1.6 billion Muslims. While there is a fair amount of controversy related to the growth rate among the two religions it is unlikely that Islam will eclipse Christianity any time soon. Still, the growth in Muslim populations in most countries and the fact that it is the world’s second-largest religion make it reasonable to reflect for a moment on how Christians should respond to the message of Islam as it is encountered in our daily lives.

Certainly there are a number of widely differing views on this matter. Groups such as ReligiousTolerance.org espouse a position of compatibility, blaming any discrepancies on conservative factions of both religions.

However, for Christians the most important question, to reiterate a popular and very over-used euphemism, is “What would Jesus do?”

Christianity holds a number of cardinal tenets of the faith to be doctrinally sacrosanct. Among them are these:

  1. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, a co-equal member of the Holy Trinity comprised God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. Islam does not recognize the Holy Trinity.
  2. The only path to salvation and eternal life in heaven with God is the recognition and admission of sin, and the acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ as our personal Savior. There is no other path to heaven. Jesus Christ made salvation available to His followers through his crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. There is no other path to heaven. Islam teaches that Jesus is a Prophet and a servant of God. Muhammad is also a Prophet and a servant of God. He was the last Prophet sent by God to guide and teach mankind. Islam regards Mohammed to be the most prominent prophet of the bunch. Islam teaches that Christ was neither crucified nor killed by the Jews, although circumstances produced that illusion in the minds of some, and that Jesus was taken up to God before He died on the cross.
  3. There is only one God, and one mediator between God and Man, and that is Jesus Christ. Islam does not recognize a Christ-based atonement. Muslims believe that each person is responsible for his or her own actions and that no one else can atone for them. However, you can pray to God for His mercy and forgiveness on behalf of another person. The Prophet Muhammad and some are given the special privilege to intercede on behalf of their parents on the Day of Judgment.

For a more detailed description of Islam’s views in these areas, you might want to take a look at this website. However, I should warn you before you go there that this site either deliberately or mistakenly misrepresents Christianity badly in some areas.

The upshot of this is that Christianity and Islam represent vastly different views of who God is, of how human beings can gain access to God and to heaven, and – well – just about every element of paramount importance to the Christian world view. Probably the most important aspect is that Islam does not regard Jesus as God. The Bible is very clear about this, as can be seen in Matthew 1:23, Lue 1:31, Luke 1:35, and John 1: 1-3.

The Bible warns many times of apostasy – false prophets, and false teachers. 2 Peter 2:1 tells us: “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.”

The Bible tells us very clearly that it contains the entirety of the Word of God, and that anyone who comes along claiming to be another prophet and attempts to add or take away from the message of the Bible is to be condemned (Revelation 22: 16-19): “I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star. And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” (I’m not seeing anything here that says: “Unless your name is Mohammed.”)

When confronted with false teachings, it seems to me that the Bible indicates four specific actions that we should take:

  1. The Bible says that it’s important that Christians are able to show why we believe what we believe. 1 Peter 3:15 makes that crystal clear: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts; and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you for a reason for the hope that is in you….”.
  2. The Bible indicates we should test the teachings and preaching that we encounter to see whether it is genuine or it is false doctrine. 1 John 4:1 says: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”
  3. The Bible also says that it’s important to reject the nonsense being promoted by the “politically correct” crowd who want to accept “many paths to God”, and co-equal God-ship of God with any false God. 1 Corinthians 6:3 says: “Know ye not that we shall judge angels? How much more things that pertain to this life?”
  4. The Bible says that when we have discerned that a false doctrine is being taught, we should sharply rebuke the teacher if he is a Christian who has fallen away from the truth. The Bible is emphatic about this in several texts, including Jude 1:4, Titus 1:13, and 2 Timothy 4:2: “Preach the word, be instant in season, reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.” However, in cases where the false teacher is not a Christian, the Bible seems to me to indicate that two courses of action are possible:
    1. Don’t rebuke the non-believer, but reason with them instead (This would seem to be indicated by Proverbs 9:8, which says: “Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee; rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee.”
    2. Rebuke the false teacher, call him names, and embarrass him publically. There are many New Testament examples of this, including Matthew 23 (Where Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites and murders), Acts Chapter 2 (Where Peter called people murders), and Acts 7 (Where Stephen called the people murderers.) In these cases, I notice that the people called out publically were committing overt and sinful acts.

    The conclusion I reach when reading these two different approaches is that when the false teaching is not causing immediate and physical harm, it should be faced with strong, reasoned, and scripturally based disagreement but not with name calling and public humiliation (the Proverbs 9:8 approach) in order that the false teacher and/or his target audience may be caused to see the truth. But in those cases where false teaching is leading people to take action causing immediate physical harm (such as murder or “jihad”), it must be confronted vigorously and resisted to the strongest possible extent.

Those are my thoughts in this topic, and I would be very interested in the thoughts of others.

What do you think?

Pastoral Predicament

A recent survey of Protestant pastors indicates that nearly 40% of them perceive that they are not “on the same page” – either politically or theologically or both – with the leaders of their denomination, and/or the congregations in their churches. A recent AgapePress article presented the results of this survey. It was authored by Allie Martin and Jody Brown, and entitled “Survey Reveals Discord Between Pastors, Denominations”. Martin & Brown report that Ellison Research found “19 percent of pastors are more liberal theologically than their denomination, 23 percent are more conservative, and 59 percent say their views align with their denomination’s teachings.” It also pointed out that “”Sixty percent of all evangelical pastors said that they are on the same page as their denomination politically, compared to only 45 percent of pastors in mainline Protestant churches,” Sellers says. “As a matter of fact, over one-third of pastors in mainline Protestant churches said that their denomination is more politically liberal than they are.”

I found several dimensions of this report to be significant. One aspect that struck me as intriguing here was the fact that political and spiritual (or at least religious) aspects are tied together. The research performed by Ellison appears to start with an underlying assumption that liberalism and conservatism are both dimensions of one’s political and spiritual position. I think that’s absolutely correct, but in this increasingly “politically correct” world, I’m surprised that researchers would make any such assumption. This would imply that there is not a statistically significant number of people in the congregation who are both politically conservative and religiously liberal, and vice versa. It would be interesting to see that hypothesis tested, I think. If it’s true (and I think it is,) the “separation of church and state” crowd will be appalled.

Another very interesting dimension of the findings is that there is a substantive difference in the degree of alignment in mainline denominations versus more evangelical churches. Again, though, when one thinks through this, it makes perfect sense. The liberalism that has been growing in American Protestant churches is obvious: Abandon the theologically rich hymns of the faith and replace them with shallower lyrics projected using Powerpoint; condone female ministers, gay lifestyles, and the idea that the Bible really is the Word of God, and as such is likely to be offensive to some folks when it is proclaimed honestly. Casual is more than the dress code of many parishioners in many of these churches; it is their view of Christianity. It is increasingly entertainment-like, and decreasingly focused on serious, soul-searching worship. There are a number of excellent examinations of this phenomenon, and among them are articles by Dave Mosher who says: “You will be hard pressed to find a local evangelical church that is not getting sucked into Emerging/Emergent/Emergence teachings.”, Melinda Penner, who says: “the Council’s decision to recommend our departure [from the denomination] was not based solely upon this issue but rather an accumulation of liberal decisions by the national body over the course of nearly 20 years, which caused a widening distance in our relationship with them as a conservative congregation.  Thus the gay clergy decision was the tipping point after adding up many factors and a long-term trend.”, and Dave Cloud, who says: “Respected evangelical leader Harold Lindsell gave this testimony in regard to the mainline denominations: “It is not unfair to allege that among denominations like Episcopal, United Methodist, United Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, the Lutheran Church in America, and the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. THERE IS NOT A SINGLE THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY THAT TAKES A STAND IN FAVOR OF BIBLICAL INFALLIBILITY. AND THERE IS NOT A SINGLE SEMINARY WHERE THERE ARE NOT FACULTY MEMBERS WHO DISAVOW ONE OR MORE OF THE MAJOR TEACHINGS OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH” (Harold Lindsell, Battle for the Bible, Zondervan, 1976, pp. 145-146.) Modernism has permeated the mainline denominations. Any call, therefore, to breach denominational barriers today, is a call to yoke together truth with error and is an open denial of the biblical doctrine of separation.”

The third dimension of interest to me is simply the large and increasing number of pastors who feel that they are not aligned in terms of their theology (and politics) with their own congregations. In my experience, at least in the case of strong pastoral leaders, the congregations tend to gravitate toward the perspectives presented from the pulpit. Congregations should be calling pastors who they believe to be teaching in accordance with their perceptions of biblical truth. If they are doing that, then why would there be such a large and growing disparity between their views and the pastor’s?

Finally, the dimension that I am having more trouble understanding: 23% of pastors surveyed report that their denominational leaders are more liberal than they are. It makes me wonder what is at the root of this. Are the denominational leaders, owing to their elevated standing in the denomination, “going Hollywood” in terms of relaxing their standards to be more widely accepted? I do understand the flip side, I think. The 19% who report that their denominational leaders are more conservative seems perfectly natural in light of the generally liberalizing trends in our churches today, as discussed earlier in this article. But the aspect of more liberal denominational leaders is troubling indeed.

I do understand the “Pastoral Predicament” here. Many pastors who remain faithful to the doctrinal teachings of fundamental Christianity as described by the Bible are feeling the squeeze these days, between a liberalizing denominational leadership and a liberalizing congregation. Other pastors have the challenge of denominational leaders growing further and further distanced from both themselves and their congregations. This path is slightly easier, because there is a clear way out – leave the denominational affiliation and find one closer in spiritual alignment. But even in these cases, the way forward is uncomfortable at best. It is a difficult and growing problem. I would be interested in hearing other perspectives on this.

What do you think?

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