We sometimes hear people say that America is a “Christian Nation.” That statement today is wrong in several ways. The facts show that only 9% of all people in the world who call themselves “Christians” live in North America (the U.S. and Canada). So, where are the Christians?
The home of 51% of the world’s Christians is in Africa and Latin America. Africa alone has 26%. The report shows that 23% live in Europe, 16% in Asia, and 1% in Oceania. Realize that these numbers only tell us people who claim the religious identity of “Christian.” That doesn’t mean a person attends any worship services.
Yesterday we reported on the LGBT conflict which is breaking the United Methodist Church apart. The dispute over sexual morality is also affecting one of the oldest and most highly regarded theological seminaries in the United States–Fuller Theological Seminary. The conflict involves Christian seminary students in same-sex marriages.
Fuller has a “Sexual Standards Policy,” which states that the seminary “holds marriage to be a covenant union between one man and one woman.” The policy also says that “homosexual forms of explicit sexual conduct” are “inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture.” Two students, one man and one woman, were expelled because the seminary learned that they were in same-sex marriages. They are both suing the school for one million dollars each.
The problem here is that Fuller and many other Christian colleges and seminaries receive government assistance in scholarships and other educational funding. Title IX government funding rules bar “discrimination based on sex.” The original intent of this rule was that women could not be refused participation in educational programs just because they were women. Now LGBT supporters are mounting legal efforts to expand Title IX protections to gender identity and sexuality.
What happens here will have a profound effect on Christian colleges who participate in any scholarship program where government grants or loans allow students to get an education. This would include those with minority and military scholarships. It will also affect those schools and churches that use government commodities in benevolent programs or minority support programs.
Christian seminary students in same-sex marriages is only one aspect of a growing problem. It seems that the government’s beliefs about morality are dictating what Church programs can teach. The only option is for churches and schools not to use government support in any way, or else they must change their moral teachings.
One of the most divisive issues facing all Americans, including churches, is the question of how to handle the issue of sexuality in a changing culture. The United Methodist Church has been the most public about the struggle going on within their denomination. In an article in Christianity Today for January/February 2020, Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, discussed the Methodist Church as an indicator of religion in America. Tooley says, “The Methodist Church has boasted of being America’s church, and whatever is going on in America is going on in the Methodist Church.” What can we learn from the Methodist division about the future of religion in America?
Atheists have used the LGBT issue effectively against belief in God. They insist that refusing to accept anyone based on sexual preference is a form of abuse and a violation of human rights. The United Methodist Church added a sentence to “The Book of Discipline” in the 1970s, saying that the Methodist Church “does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” In 2019 that stance was reinforced by a vote of 438 to 384. That vote indicated the depth of division on this issue. Now the Methodists are debating how to divide into two denominations to make everyone happy. Will the Methodist division make anyone happy? What effect will it have on the future of religion in America?
The Does God Exist? Ministry maintains that God’s Word is 100% true and is the only trustworthy guide to all decisions made in life. These facts support that view and are the only way Christians can consistently deal with the LGBT issue:
*Abusing anyone because of their choices in life violates the teachings of Jesus.
*Sexual feelings do not demand sexual expression. Premarital sex, adultery, and fornication of all kinds are not mandated by being human. Same-sex attraction does not have to be consummated in sexual acts any more than being a single sexual teenager with raging hormones does. Abstinence is biblical and logical.
*LGBT lifestyles are destructive. All data shows that STDs are more prevalent in LGBT practitioners. Sex-change operations create the need for medication for the remainder of life. Psychological issues are involved in most LGBT choices.
Sexual orientation is not always a conscious choice of those with LGBT issues. Environmental issues, genetics, abuse, and family and peer issues are always involved. The Christian response to people struggling with their sexuality must be compassionate caring, and loving-kindness, with sympathetic support.The Church must lead in doing all of this. The future of religion in America must require that we NOT change the Bible to fit the current beliefs of the culture.
Many of the atheist diatribes do not try to counter the massive evidence for God’s existence. Instead, they criticize things that have been done by people who claim to be Christians. From the Crusades to inquisitions to witch hunts, people claiming to be Christ-followers have conducted themselves in un-Christlike ways.
King James 1 had a major role in the effort to eradicate witchcraft from 17th century England. The Lancashire witchcraft trials in 1612 were a part of his legacy. Of course, he also commissioned the 1611 King James translation of the Bible into English. There is no Hebrew or early Greek word for “witch,” but because of the cultural climate of the day, the term “witch” was used in passages dealing with idolaters, mediums, or sorcerers.
Denominations who came to America with the King James Bible in their hands used the word “witch” to deal with even such things as a charm or remedy. Galatians 5:20 uses the Greek word “pharmakia” to describe sorcery, which refers to casting spells. It is translated as “witchcraft” in many Bibles. In 1 Samuel 15:23, the Hebrew word “qasam” is translated “witchcraft” in the KJV. A better translation is “divination,” which is the pagan parallel to prophesying.
In the Old Testament, anyone who was into astrology or enchantments was dealt with harshly. (See Exodus 22:18, Deuteronomy 18:10, 2 Kings 9:22, 2 Chronicles 33:6, and Micah 5:12.) When Jesus canceled the old law by “nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14), He did away with the violent retaliation that the law prescribed.
Witch hunts resulted in the terrible things that happened in the witch trials of Salem, Massachusets, in 1692 and 1693. People were tortured and killed because they were accused of witchcraft. Read Matthew 5-7 to see how Jesus dealt with the opponents of His teaching. God is a God of love, full of compassion and care for all human beings. Those who claim to be witches need the same love and care that all humans seek. Instead of condemning them to torture and death, Christians should show them that Christ’s love can meet their real needs.
Whom or What Do You Worship? For many people, the immediate reaction is to say something like, “I don’t worship anything. I am a self-made person.” A more degrading answer might be, “Worship is for sissies, and I don’t need that junk.” Webster’s dictionary defines worship as “rendering of homage to something or someone” or “rendering religious reverence to something or someone.” Worship is not confined to an activity done in a church building. Some people worship nature, some worship an experience, others worship celestial objects or animals, or even their job or their mate. God doesn’t need our worship. Worship is for our benefit, not God’s.
From a biblical perspective, there is an easy answer to why we do these things. God created us in His image, and God is a Spirit (Genesis 1:26-27 and John 4:24). We all have a spiritual component which is a part of our makeup. Romans 8:16 tells us, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Atheists have this spiritual makeup, and they express it in their obsessions in life. I have known atheists who worshipped sex or their material possessions or an activity like fishing. They would render homage to the object of their worship that would shame any preacher.
What is unique about Christian worship is that it can be controlled and directed to productive uses. Jesus warned his followers to avoid worshiping “the traditions of the elders” (See Mark 7:1-8). Paul reflected on the same idea in Colossians 2:8 warning about making philosophy the object of one’s worship. He goes on in verses 16-23 about making religious rules an object of worship. In Romans 1:25, Paul talks about “worshipping the things made instead of the maker.” Thus we must ask, “Whom or what do you worship?”
How we express the spiritual drive that is built into all of us is essential and within our control. To establish meaningful worship, 1 Timothy 4:12-13 and Hebrews 10:24-25 encourage reading and learning. James 1:27 points out that pure religion and worship comes in meeting the needs of those less fortunate than ourselves. Our worship as Christians is not just a Sunday morning thing. Worship is a continual activity. Hebrews 13:15-16 talks about worship through voices. James 5:13 talks about personal prayer, and in Matthew 6:5-15, Jesus talks about private prayer worship as a part of daily life. Even giving is an act of worship, expressed in Hebrews 13:16, 2 Corinthians 9:7, and Acts 20:35.
Worship with the wrong attitude can be destructive, even for Churches. In 1 Corinthians 11:17-22, Paul says the worship of that congregation did more harm than good. Those with no relationship to God are likely to find whatever they worship is disappointing and unfulfilling. Learning to look to a higher power is widely recognized as a technique to help us find satisfaction and overcome problems in life. Ephesians 2:18 tells us that Christians have access to the Father. Worship in private and in corporate service can be a tool to bring us great satisfaction and solutions to the major problems of life.
Whom or what do you worship? Other worship alternatives don’t benefit the worshipper or anyone else in such profound ways as when we worship God.
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 !!
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).
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.
In my atheist days, I ridiculed religious people for believing something that has no power. I didn’t realize the power of faith and love.
“What good does being a Christian do you that I can’t get at my local bar or club?” That was my challenge. I said that I could have fellowship and share love and material blessings without going to church. I pointed out with some validity that going to church is similar to being a member of a country club. I pay my dues and enjoy certain privileges to be a member of the club. For many church attenders, their contribution is their dues, and they get to go to social events and have some name recognition.
This distorted view of Christianity misses the point at many levels. The Church is not a social club, but a service organization. People in the Church serve the community. They provide relief, take care of the sick, educate children, and support good causes.
Even more important is the power of faith that comes by having a relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus states things in Matthew 5-7 which are ludicrous to an atheist. How can a rational person love those who hate them (Matthew 5:44)? What is the logic of turning the other cheek (Matthew 5:39)? How can anyone be willing to go the second mile (Matthew 5:41)?
To answer the atheist challenge, just ask what is causing the problems for most people living in 21st century America. Why do we have such a high suicide rate? Why is drug usage high and growing? What causes so many people to struggle with depression? It isn’t physical needs that are the most significant problem. It is emotional and spiritual ills that push people into behaviors that sometimes take their lives.
Paul describes the power of faith expressed in love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-5. People of faith understand the love which surpasses physical needs. “Love is patient and kind: love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice at wrongdoing or keep a record of wrongs but rejoices in the truth… Love never ends.”
There is even a particular Greek word “agapao” to describe that kind of love. It’s a love that fulfills the emotional and spiritual needs that we all have, and God’s Spirit brings that love to life in us. The power of faith is available to anyone who will seek it.
Have you ever been thirsty? I mean, REALLY thirsty!! Thirsty to the point of being willing to give anything for a drink of water? Water is precious. We are seeing the results of a lack of water in many places in the world today. There are entire cities where water is in such short supply that people have to go to extremes to get enough to stay alive. Because the design of water makes it essential for life, scientists looking for evidence of life on other planets start by searching for signs of water. The design of water makes it an excellent illustration of the miracle of living water.
We have discussed water’s chemistry before. The atomic structure of oxygen and hydrogen produces the polar nature of the water molecule, which gives water its incredible properties. The design of water is an amazing example of God’s engineering skills at all levels of complexity.
In ancient times having water was just as critical as it is today. Those of us who live in areas with abundant water have no idea how much the search for it dominated people’s lives in Jesus’ day. It is hard for us to fully appreciate the meaning of the teaching of Jesus in John 4 when He met the woman at the well and offered her the miracle of living water. The person who was assigned the task of keeping the family supplied with water had to be strong enough to walk long distances and carry heavy loads. This woman was going to carry something back to her family that was even more precious than the water she came to get.
“Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whosoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’” John 4:13-14.
To the secular world, that statement is ludicrous, and yet Jesus refers to “rivers of living water” many times. In John 7:38, for example, Jesus says, “Whosoever believes in me… out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” The next few verses explain, “He said this about the Spirit whom those who believed in Him were about to receive.” Because of our thirst, we understand the importance of water. For unbelievers, the miracle of living water is hard to comprehend, until they have a thirst for a better existence. In Acts 2:38, Peter told the people who WERE convinced that they needed a better existence that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The design of water not only gives us life, but it helps us to understand the importance of the miracle of living water that Jesus offers. When you water a seed, it grows and begins a new existence. When you obey His commands and become a Christian, you begin a new and eternal life. That life brings peace and love, even to the most downcast and sinful person. Living water from Jesus is truly a miracle.