We are about to begin the third decade of the 21st century, and we can sum up the message of the century with the word “change.” We tend to fight change. I have an older friend who says that he has seen a lot of changes in America and he’s been opposed to every one of them. He is also an atheist. When I pointed out to him that Jesus Christ was an agent of change and Christianity is a religion of change, he asked me to explain that. Let me point out five reasons.
#1) The Bible we use is the NEW Testament. Jesus used that term repeatedly using the Greek word “kaimos” meaning new, fresh, recent. (See Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24 and Luke 22:20).
#2) Newness means giving up old ways that either didn’t work or have quit working. Jesus Christ was an agent of change as He consistently gave new and better answers to old ways. In Mark 10:4, some Pharisees asked Jesus about the law of Moses, which allowed a man to divorce his wife for virtually any reason. This made women the property of their husbands. Jesus gave a new perspective on this whole issue by saying, “A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and the two of them shall become one, so then they are not two but one. What, therefore, God has joined together, let no man tear asunder.” This is not a sexual reference, and it made women partners, not property, and radically changed the view of women to a new and critical role. (See Genesis 2:24.)
#3) Newness in Christianity knocked down old prejudices and racial issues, making the walls that divide people non-existent. Galatians 3:28 expresses this new concept beautifully, saying, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” All of this newness was very hard for the religious and political establishment of Jesus’ day to accept, and it is still hard for many today.
#4) Newness involves changing. Christianity is not legalistic and is not run by a bunch of laws. Paul says it well in 2 Corinthians 3:6: “Christ has made us ministers of the New Testament, not of the letter, but of the Spirit: for the letter kills but the Spirit gives life.” Hebrews 10:20 talks about Christianity being a new a living way and Hebrews 8:8-12 puts to rest animal sacrifice and other ineffective practices of the past.
#5) Jesus Christ is an agent of change because He has given us a new commandment that replaces the old ways. John tells about it in 2 John 5. Over and over, Jesus talked about love in a way peculiar to Christ, using the Greek word “agapao” to describe how the new way of life should function. All of Matthew 5 – 7 emphasizes this new way of living.
People rejected the newness that Jesus brought then, and people fight it now. The fact remains that Jesus Christ is an agent of change, and in Him, all things are made new. (See 2 Corinthians 5:17 and Ephesians 4:24.) As you celebrate the start of a new year, let us urge you to become a new person. Be born again and live in the newness that “looks for new heavens and a new earth” ( 2 Peter 3:13). Ultimately we look forward to the joy of having the best new existence that we can imagine. (See Revelation 21:4-5.) HAPPY NEW YEAR !!
One of the promises of modern genetics is that in the future, we will create “designer babies.” The idea is that if you produce a group of embryos and then look at the DNA of each of them, you can select which embryo you want to become your child. The other embryos would be destroyed. The process is called “preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD).” You might call it playing God with DNA.
With PGD, the embryos are created through in vitro fertilization. Technicians remove a single cell from each embryo and test it for single-gene variants which cause cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs, or other diseases. Many diseases such as diabetes may result from variants in hundreds or thousands of genes. The risk for heart disease may involve millions of gene variants.
Medical scientists are working to establish a polygenic score, which would indicate intelligence, height, and other traits by examining the DNA. They call these factors “enhancements.” The problem is that those traits may also be the result of multiple genetic variants. Playing God by trying to select the attributes for a “designer baby” can be not only immoral but dangerous.
A group of researchers published a study in the journalCell on November 21, 2019, in which they attempted to learn how reliable polygenic scores would be for determining height or IQ. The research indicates that the DNA genetic predictions about those enhancements are unreliable and insignificant at best. Among other problems is that “differences in diet, lifestyle, exposure to pollution, culture, undiscovered genetic variants, and other unknown factors can influence how complex traits develop.”
The original use of polygenic scores was to help people know if a lethal or disruptive disease was a part of their heredity. Being able to repair the DNA or choosing not to have children is an option that would be useful to couples. Embryo selection for non-medical traits such as height, intelligence, or gender is a whole different question.
An article on this study in ScienceNews.org quoted Dr. Nicholas Katsanis, who is a human geneticist at the Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Dr. Katsanis said, “The idea that we’re going to do genetic screening for anything other than medically actionable items is the definition of eugenics. That we’re even contemplating this is disturbing.”
We agree that humans playing God in areas like this is immoral and likely to be disastrous at worst and disappointing at best.
We have received several letters from readers who appreciate what we are trying to do in our ministry. They say that they want us to be aware that there are grants for certain types of educational efforts that we can get from the government. We serve and educate hundreds of prisoners around the country. We have to explain why we don’t accept government grants.
Many years ago, Ohio Valley Christian College (now Ohio Valley University) erected an auditorium using a grant program from the government. The auditorium served the community and provided a venue for theatrical programs. The school conducted a short devotional at the beginning of each day as a part of the education of the students presenting the values of a Christian education. The government informed the school that they could no longer use the auditorium for that purpose because it could be interpreted as the government sanctioning religion. To the school’s credit, they returned the government grant.
I happened to share a motel room with the president of the school during that time and learned first-hand the dilemma it presented. The government is very inconsistent with this kind of control. When I was involved in atheism, we were able to use public facilities free of charge, with the government providing the facility and bearing its expense. Ten years later, when I was a Christian, we tried to rent a public facility in New York. We were refused because we were talking about God and the scientific evidence for faith.
Hillsdale College here in Michigan makes a point of stating clearly: “Hillsdale refuses to accept one penny from the government – not even indirectly in the form of federal or state student grants or loans. This is essential to our ability to remain independent and stay true to our educational mission.”
We applaud Hillsdale for that policy, and we fully understand it. That’s why we don’t accept government grants. Like Hillsdale, this ministry is totally funded by the generosity of those who believe what we are doing is essential. We will not use grants or loans that have government connections.
One of the most vocal atheist groups in America today is the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which operates out of Madison, Wisconsin. They present a prize called the Atheist In Foxhole Courage Award. At their Pittsburgh convention in 2016, they gave it to Marie Schaub, who successfully sued the Valley High School in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. The court decision forced the school district to remove a six-foot monument of the Ten Commandments that stood in front of the high school.
The monument was erected during the Eisenhower administration in honor of veterans who graduated from the high school and who died defending America. In her acceptance speech, Schaub said that she was “confused and sickened” the first time she saw the monument. She referred to its removal as “righting a wrong that was committed so long ago.” And she said removing it “will provide a more welcoming environment.”
What is “wrong” with a series of statements about not murdering, not stealing, and not bearing false witness? It is hard to comprehend how removing admonitions to young people about right living makes the environment more welcoming. Reminding young people of their heritage, and that the high school has a history of heroes who defended America seems hard to criticize. If the basis of removing the monument was to avoid offending those who do not accept the historical underpinnings of this country, one might be able to make a case for the removal. Vilifying the Ten Commandments is a very different thing.
So the Atheist in Foxhole Courage Award is given to people who don’t have the courage to see something that makes them “sickened and confused” because they can’t accept what it says. The FFRF and other atheist organizations are dedicated to “removing every historical monument that mentions God from the public arena.” That will obliterate much of America’s history with no reasonable replacement.
Evolutionary biologist Joseph Henrich and his colleagues conducted a study of the historical influence of Christianity in Europe. The research focused on the Catholic Church and its ban on marriages between cousins, step-relatives, and in-laws.
The researchers took data from 440 regions under the influence of the Catholic Church in 36 European countries from A.D. 550 to 1500. They found that for each 500 years under the church’s influence, there was a 91% drop in those marriages which the church considered incestuous. They used 24 psychological metrics such as individualism, creativity, conformity, honesty, and trust. The longer the population was exposed to the Church influence, the higher its individualism, nonconformity, and trust of strangers.
However you view this study, it is clear is that faith institutions affect the culture in which they exist. As we look at America in the past 50 years, what has changed in the way we live and how we view institutions? As the influence of Christianity wanes and Christian values are discarded, what influence has replaced it? How has “survival of the fittest” and the emphasis on material things altered our culture?
An evolutionary view has replaced the teachings of Jesus Christ. Our children are being taught that we are the product of evolutionary change driven by the influence of social evolution embodying materialism and survival of the fittest. The result has already been catastrophic with violence, abuse, racism, drug use, and high suicide and divorce rates.
This study shows that on an academic level, the influence of a social institution like the Catholic Church is vast and varied. Where the Catholic Church has failed is when it introduces practices and beliefs that are not biblical – like celibacy, the papacy, and the use of force over doctrinal issues. Neither do we argue for denominational Christianity, or institutions constructed by men based on human wisdom and power. We argue for the validity of the teachings of Jesus Christ and the guidance given in the teachings of the New Testament. The influence of Christianity is critical for the survival of America and the world.
Relying on evolution to guide what we do and how we do it is a recipe for disaster. “Be not deceived, evil company is the ruin of a good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33 New English Bible).
Every year around Christmas and Easter, various secular publications and websites carry articles that are critical of Jesus and the Bible. This year LiveScience.com published a page questioning, “How Much of the Nativity Story is True?” Often articles like this make the mistake of confusing Bible and traditions. This one is no exception.
The article begins by quoting Brent Landau, whom they refer to as “a religious studies scholar at the University of Texas at Austin.” Landau says, “My overall take on this, which would be the opinion of most other biblical scholars as well, is that there is very little in the Christmas story of the Gospels that is historically reliable.” Mr. Landau is not only stating that the “Gospels” are historically unreliable, but he is going farther by asserting that “most other biblical scholars” agree with that! His statement is inaccurate on both counts.
We have many times before dealt with the historical accuracy of the Gospels and the Bible as a whole in our publications, videos, and websites. Most biblical scholars would NOT agree that there is “very little in the Christmas story of the Gospels that is historically reliable.” Actually, there is very little of the “Christmas story” in the Gospels. The story has been embellished by traditions resulting in people confusing Bible and traditions. Only Matthew and Luke say anything about the events surrounding the birth of Jesus, and their accounts are brief. Most of the gospel narratives tell of the ministry and teaching of Jesus leading up to His sacrifice and resurrection, which is much more important than details of His birth.
To provide some balance, the article also quotes Ben Witherington III, a well-known New Testament scholar who teaches at Asbury Theological Seminary. Witherington is author of more than 30 books and is a strong advocate for the accuracy of the Scriptures. He points out that we should apply the same principles of historical investigation to the Bible as we do to the records of other ancient historical events such as Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars. As we have pointed out before, the historical evidence for the biblical events is better supported by documentary evidence than any other event of ancient history.
However, as we said, secular writers often make the mistake of confusing Bible and traditions. The article talks about December 25 not being Christ’s birthday. Of course, it isn’t. The Bible doesn’t give a date for His birth, but it was most likely in the spring. The article also says, “Most scholars agree that Jesus wasn’t born in A.D. 1.” That is true also, but that doesn’t mean the Bible is wrong. No year of His birth can be found in the Bible, but the Scripture does connect it with the reign of Herod the Great. In fact, shouldn’t Jesus have been born in 0 A.D? The A.D. And B.C. designations were assigned years later after people came to understand the importance of His birth.
When Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem to a humble couple from the backwater town of Nazareth, only a few shepherds recognized the significance. Herod was the powerful ruler building monuments to himself. Today, Herod’s structures are in ruins, and nobody bases their calendar on his birthday. By contrast, our calendars remind us of the (approximate) date of Jesus’ birth, and the Church that He established is a monument to His love and sacrifice. The Gospel accounts meet the standards of historical integrity when we avoid confusing Bible and traditions.
Almost everything about Christmas is rooted in history and in Christmas symbols that people use to remember things that are important to their faith. Even the date of Christmas has such a root. In the year 354 a leader in the Church named Liberius declared that December 25 would be a holy day for celebrating the birth of Christ. This date was chosen because there was a pagan festival which celebrated the winter solstice, and the Christian celebration was safer when other celebrations were taking place.
During this same time, Romans decorated their homes with evergreens which they considered to be a symbol of the regenerative power of nature. The shape of the Christmas tree was chosen in some cultures because it pointed toward heaven. Wreaths were used because they were in the motif of a wheel indicating the cycling of the Sun or of the seasons.
In Scandinavian tradition, decorative wreaths were hung on the door with a red ribbon and were called “welcome wreaths.” Anyone who came to the door was welcomed to the Christmas feast and a place setting was always present for “the poor man’s plate”.
While all these customs, traditions, and Christmas symbols are separate and apart from the teachings of the Bible, they reflect the history of Christianity. Our Christmas stories such as “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens and “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry reflect the values that have existed in many different cultures through the ages. Paul discussed this in Romans 14:5-19 and he ends it by saying, “Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.”
We wish you the best for the holiday season, however you decide to participate in it, and may we also wish you the best for a joyous and wonderful new year.
When I was an atheist, this time of year used to drive me nuts. There was so much about the story of the birth of Jesus that didn’t make sense. I viewed Christmas as a classic demonstration of the foolishness of Christians who would believe any myth that came along. I was confusing Christmas traditions and the Bible.
Then I started actually studying the Bible with the stated intent to prove it wrong. I soon discovered that what I objected to was human traditions and not mistakes in the Bible. Studying Matthew 1:18-2:23 and Luke 2:1-20 told a whole different story than what I saw on TV shows and Christmas cards. Here are some of my confusions that the Bible resolved:
How could a star stand over the place where the baby was? The closest star to Earth is 4.3 light-years away and shines on the whole planet, not a single place. The Bible does not indicate a celestial star. Herod couldn’t see the star and charged the “wise men” to tell him where the baby was. The biblical concept of this kind of celestial object was what is called the Shekinah glory. It is used frequently in the Bible, especially during the Israelite journey in the wilderness. See Exodus 13:21, 24:17, 40:38 and Ezekiel 1:28, 10:18, 11:23, 43:2.
No “Three Kings” would make such a journey to honor anything. Here again, there is a difference between Christmas traditions and the Bible. Matthew indicates they came from the east, and the word used to describe them is “magos,” from which we get our word “magician.” Luke uses the same word to describe a sorcerer in Acts 13:6-8. They were astrologers from Persia or Arabia, and the Bible doesn’t tell us how many there were. It only mentions three gifts. These three individuals arrived first in Jerusalem, not Bethlehem. The Bible doesn’t tell us when they arrived at the location of the child Jesus.
The Bible also doesn’t name the magi, but their traditional names and descriptions are highly symbolic. Tradition describes Melchoir as old, white-haired, and he brought gold – a gift usually reserved for kings. Gaspar, who was young and beardless, brought frankincense – a fragrant gum resin which was often burned to give a balsam odor which symbolized God’s people ascending to heaven. Balthazar, who was black, had a heavy beard and brought myrrh. Myrrh was a fragrant resin from Arabia, frequently used as an embalming material. (See John 19:39.) None of these names and descriptions are in the Bible – it is all tradition.
Christmas reminds us of the birth of Jesus, but why is the birth of a baby two millennia ago relevant today? The answer to that question depends on the answer to another question. Who is Jesus? People have various ideas of who Jesus is. Some say He is God. Others say He was just a man who was a good moral teacher. But, if Jesus is not God, He could not have been a good moral teacher. Let me explain why.
There is no doubt that Jesus was born a human being. The shepherds who saw Him in the stable and the people who watched Him grow up in His hometown of Nazareth could verify that. He grew to be a rabbi, a teacher, and He had many followers. His select group of disciples who talked with Him and ate with Him and lived with Him knew that He was a man. But His teaching was like no other man. He taught with the authority of God. He claimed to be God. He claimed to forgive sins, which only God can do.
Thus, if that baby born in Bethlehem were merely a human being who grew to be a man and said the things He said, He would not be a good moral teacher. He claimed to teach the truth, and He even claimed to be the truth. He claimed to be God! If He were not God, He would be a liar or a madman, but He would not a good moral teacher.
So who is Jesus? What do we celebrate at Christmas? We remember that God took on flesh as a baby who grew to be a man. He lived a sinless life because He is God. But He did not come merely to show us how to live a sinless life. He knew that we could not. He came to redeem us—to be a sacrifice for our sins.
When Jesus was on Earth, He was truly man and truly God. He could be the sacrifice for sins only because He was God. Although Jesus was sinless, He was not a third-party victim selected to bear our punishment. It would be immoral to punish an innocent man for the sins of all the guilty people. He was also the divine lawgiver and judge, so He could choose to suffer the penalty of His own law and bear the sins of all people. One man could only bear the punishment for His own sins. God can bear the punishment for all.
So who is Jesus? On that night near Bethlehem, the angel did not merely announce the birth of a baby boy. The angel said, “I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people…a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11 CSB). Have you allowed Him to be your Savior?
After today, Sunday, December 22, 2019, the hours of daylight will begin to be longer in the Northern Hemisphere where we live. Last night at 11:19 p.m. local time (Eastern Standard), the December solstice occurred as the Sun reached its lowest point in the dome of the sky, even though we couldn’t see it. It happened at the same moment all over the Earth, but, of course, local times varied. (It was at 04:19 Universal Time, and you can figure your local time from that.)
The December solstice ushers in winter in the Northern Hemisphere and summer in the Southern Hemisphere. So for those of us in the north, the days will now start to slowly get longer as the weather gets colder. South of the equator, the situation is just the opposite. At the North Pole, there are 24 hours of darkness when the Sun never appears. At the South Pole, the Sun is up for 24 hours.
Although the December solstice is the time when the Sun is at its farthest point south, it hasn’t moved. We have. Earth’s axis is tilted 23.5 degrees from the path of its orbit path around the Sun. Each year that tilt causes us Earthlings to perceive that the Sun is moving north or south. Earth’s orbit is somewhat elliptical rather than a perfect circle. The point when Earth is closest to the Sun occurs in January during the Northern Hemisphere’s mid-winter. It’s mid-summer in the Southern Hemisphere, so you might think that their summers would be extra hot. Whatever increased heat would occur because of the proximity of the Sun is counteracted by the fact that the Southern Hemisphere is mostly covered by oceans which absorb the heat. That is just another part of our amazingly well-engineered planet.
In Genesis 1:14, we read that God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years.” Ever since Adam and Eve, people have recognized the Sun’s regular path across the sky and the changes in daylight, sunrise, and sunset times throughout the year. In ancient times, they didn’t understand why. We know why and we marvel at the design.
Every creature on Earth is affected in some way by the length of daylight. Historically, people in the Northern Hemisphere have celebrated the December solstice because it means the days will start getting longer, and spring will return. In ancient Rome, the people called their celebration Saturnalia and honored their pagan god Saturn with immoral behavior. With the coming of Christianity, the Christians re-purposed the holiday to honor the coming of Christ into the world. While the pagans celebrated with debauchery, the Christians made it a time of praising God and the gift of His Son. Jesus was almost certainly not born at this time of year, but more likely in the spring. However, we should take time to honor God for the beautiful design of our planet that makes life possible, and the wonderful gift of Jesus that makes eternal life possible.