Organized Religion in 21st Century America

Organized Religion in 21st Century America

In 1999, the Gallup Poll said that 70% of all Americans belonged to a church, synagogue, or mosque. In March of 2021, that number has dropped to 47%. That doesn’t mean 53% of all Americans are atheists, but it does indicate a failure of organized religion in 21st century America.

When you look at the climbing suicide rate, the increase in the use of drugs, including alcohol and marijuana, and the increasing violence in America, it is obvious that our secular culture is falling apart. Add to that the fact that the media, politicians, and academic communities have been caught in lie after lie, and the picture looks bleak.

The bright side is that people are becoming more open to change. This ministry has been in existence since 1968, with the message that science and faith are compatible and that massive evidence shows that God is real and the Bible is His word for humanity. Interest in that message has grown astronomically. Organized religion has maintained the status quo, and hypocrisy has been rampant in religious and political leaders. Meanwhile, young people have shown a growing desire to integrate belief in God with making human behavior changes.

Organized religion in 21st Century America shows the decline of mainline churches that focus on the political issues of the day. Basic Bible groups have experienced growth when they advocate breaking with tradition and listening only to what the Bible actually says. We encourage our readers to look at the evidence for God and the Bible. As young people act on the evidence, they will make positive changes in the direction of humanity.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

The God Question

The God Question

We frequently receive the God question from skeptics. Their challenges are something like this: “Since humans created God to explain what they didn’t understand, and since we now can explain everything, there is no need for God.” This relates to the “god of the gaps” argument, which simply says that people invented God to fill in the gaps in human understanding. There is no question that various cultures and religions have used that way of thinking. When people didn’t understand what caused volcanos, they invented a god or goddess to explain them. Even today, some people in Hawaii sincerely believe that volcanos are sacred and have a supernatural origin.

The “god of the gaps” thinking is rooted in ignorance, but so is the question, “Who created God?The problem with the God question in this form is that the questioner has a concept of God which is physical and, in some cases, human-like in form and function. The biblical concept of God is unique in that it challenges us to think more deeply than any physical or human makeup.

The question also assumes that there was a time when God did not exist. The problem with that thinking is that God created time. In Revelation 22:13, God says, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” Personified Wisdom speaks in Proverbs 8:22-23 and says, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning before the Earth ever was.” Peter wrote that “with the Lord, a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3:8).

God is not a man (Numbers 23:19) nor like any physical being. “God is a Spirit” (John 4:24) and does not possess flesh and blood (Matthew 16:17). Acts 17:28 tells us that “..in Him we live and move and have our being.” We find those descriptions difficult to understand because they are outside the realm of our experience. Modern science tells us that there are dimensions beyond our own three dimensions of X, Y, and Z. Mathematics tells us that there are eleven spatial dimensions, but we cannot even define our fourth dimension of time.

The God question that atheists and skeptics bring up shows that they fail to understand that God is outside of time and space and, therefore, He always existed. Quantum mechanics has shown us a whole new realm of physics where some of the laws of classical physics no longer apply. No well-educated person would deny the studies of quantum mechanics which fill modern scientific journals. The only question remaining is whether the things that lie in the quantum world are without design or purpose and therefore show no intelligence behind them. The quantum world is incomplete because it offers no reason for there being something instead of nothing.

The concept of good and evil offers an answer to the God questions. It tells us why there is something. John 1:1-5 provides a glimpse into that question when it says, “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.” The word “logos,” from which we get the word “logic,” involves the metaphysical concept of right and wrong. The purpose of human existence is the struggle between good and evil.

Job stretched his mind to understand that he was a major player in the war between good and evil in Job 42:1-6. Understanding God’s nature and that we are beings created in His image opens a new understanding of the God question. It shows us the fallacy of asking, “Who created God?” and expecting a physical answer. God fills the cosmos (Jeremiah 23:23-24), and our studies into the nature of matter have opened a whole new door to better understanding the God question.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Christ’s Resurrection Conquered Sin And Death

Christ’s Resurrection Conquered Sin And Death

Each week as Christians meet, we remember Christ’s resurrection and victory over death. Annually we must not forget that at the time of Passover, Jesus became the sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29) But without the resurrection, the sacrifice would be meaningless. As Paul wrote, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless” (1 Corinthians 15:17). Our faith is not worthless because Christ’s resurrection conquered sin and death.

How do we know that is true? Some unbelievers argue that the resurrection is just a myth that arose many years later. The evidence against that idea is numerous and strong. The apostles carried the message of Christ’s resurrection to the ends of the Roman Empire for the rest of their lives. That was even though they had nothing to gain except a life of persecution ending in execution. If they had not seen the resurrected Christ, they would not have spent their lives proclaiming the message that Christ’s resurrection conquered sin and death.

Skeptics have often used the argument that the gospels were written years later to “prove” that the resurrection was a myth that developed during those years. However, before any of the four gospels were written, Paul wrote to the church in Corinth in A.D. 57. In it, he included an oral tradition that gives a summary of the gospel message.

Today we have access to writing materials, books, and computers. We are accustomed to writing things down. In the first century, there were no computers, printed books, or pamphlets. Even simple writing materials were scarce and precious. People memorized important things by summarizing them efficiently and then passing them on as oral traditions. The early Christians used that method. Here is the first part of an oral tradition that Paul wrote down in that first letter to the church in Corinth:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to…”

The oral tradition then goes on to list some resurrection appearances of Christ. Then Paul adds himself to the list of those who saw the resurrected Christ. (You can read it for yourself in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.) Of course, the “Scriptures” that Paul refers to are the Old Testament prophecies of Christ since the New Testament was not yet written.

When did Paul receive this tradition? He probably received it no later than A.D. 36 when he first visited Jerusalem. (See Galatians 1:15-18.) He possibly received it earlier than that in Damascus when, as Saul the persecutor, he encountered Ananias and received his sight. Ananias preached the gospel to him, and “Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.” Whether in Jerusalem or Damascus, Paul received the oral tradition of Christ’s resurrection no more than five years after the event. That tradition was not a myth that developed years later after the eyewitnesses had died.

Each week, as we celebrate the fact that Christ’s resurrection conquered sin and death, we can trust the story is true. We have that oral tradition written down, but we would do well to memorize it as the early Christians did.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Season of Lent and Holy Week

Season of Lent and Holy Week

Since February 17, 2021, people have been observing the season of lent, a period of extreme religious tradition. It began on Shrove Tuesday when people burn palms from the Palm Sunday events of last year and place the ashes on their foreheads for Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday officially began the season of Lent, which is the 40 days leading up to Easter. Today, Sunday, March 28, is called Palm Sunday to celebrate the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem when people hailed Him as a king and placed palm branches in His path. Then follows Holy Monday and Tuesday, remembering the challenges to Jesus by the Pharisees. Spy Wednesday recalls the bargaining of Judas with the Pharisees. Maundy Thursday celebrates the Last Supper, and Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion. Black Saturday tells of Jesus descending into hades. The Holy Week ends with Easter Sunday, celebrating the resurrection.

The Catholic Church over the centuries has commemorated these days, but they are not biblical commands. The spin-offs from all of this are enormous. Since Lent began on Ash Wednesday, Shrove Tuesday was a feasting time with particular emphasis on pancakes and sweets of all kinds. Some people call it “Fat Tuesday,” and in French, that title is Mardi Gras. The word “lent” comes from “lencten,” an Anglo-Saxon word meaning “spring season.” The use of ashes was a Jewish tradition indicating penitence.

None of these traditions were commanded by Christ or any of the apostles. Even the word “Easter” used in Acts 12:45 in the King James translation is actually a reference to the Passover when the plagues in Egypt freed the Hebrews from slavery. The first-century Church celebrated the resurrection every Sunday, so there was no Sunday deemed more important than the others.

We all need to be reminded of the death and resurrection of Christ. But adding to the biblical account has not only precipitated the Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the Easter Bunny, decorated eggs, and a variety of celebrations in different cultures.

The Holy Week is a human attempt to remind the world that Jesus came, died, and rose from the grave and that His sacrifice has blessed all of humanity. None of it is wrong, and we applaud the dedication of many who participate in these things. At the same time, we need to realize that God does not enslave us with rituals and added burdens. Jesus said it best “Come all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest unto your souls, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) We can appreciate cultural expressions of the gospel message in the season of lent, but we must not be oppressed by them.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Pope Francis on LGBTQ Issues

Pope Francis on LGBTQ Issues

On March 16, 2021, the media was full of articles about Pope Francis stating that “homosexual unions are not similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.” The Vatican said, “God can not bless sin” further confusing the media. In a 2019 interview for the documentary Francesco, Pope Francis made a public endorsement of same-sex civil unions and said, “Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God.” These statements have led to confusion concerning Pope Francis on LGBTQ issues.

We cannot speak for the Catholic Church or Pope Francis on LGBTQ issues, but we suggest that the problem is very complex and that the Vatican, as one priest at John Carroll University put it, “is trying to thread a needle” on this issue. The Pope stated, “What we have to have is a civil union law. That way, they are legally covered.” Later the Pope said they are legally covered but not church-sanctioned.

Several facts make this issue difficult. One is that most gays did not choose to have homosexual tendencies. Why they do is related to a great extent to the acts of others. The breakdown of the family, abuse, chemical difficulties, and peer pressure are just a few of the contributors to same-sex pressures. It is becoming more and more evident that multiple causes are leading to LGBTQ behavior.

Another problem is that for many LGBTQ participants, the things necessary to maintain that lifestyle are very difficult. They may have to take hormone therapy for the rest of their lives, causing side effects and a shortened life expectancy. Some STDs are more readily transmitted in homosexual acts than in heterosexual acts.

In a free society, people can choose their sexual identity, but that creates complications. People born male who choose to be transgender females by surgery and drugs or merely by identifying as females have a huge advantage in sports. Should LGBTQ participants be allowed to adopt children or to have children conceived in a science laboratory? The Pope has said that the Catholic Church can bless people who live in “fidelity,” which apparently includes same-sex unions.

The Bible speaks strongly against same-sex unions, although some religious leaders have danced around those biblical statements. God’s plan for marriage and family remains the same. The Pope’s statement that “homosexual unions are not similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family” is consistent with the biblical position.

We suggest that LGBTQ participants have the right to practice their beliefs without abuse, but the Church cannot sanction sexual relationships that the Bible strongly condemns. It seems to us that this is the point of Pope Francis on LGBTQ issues. If that is the case, we would agree with that position. We also recommend reading the book Caring Beyond the Margins by Guy Hammond, a man who has struggled with same-sex attraction. You can read our review of that book HERE.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Simplified Cosmological Argument

Simplified Cosmological Argument

It is always interesting to read or hear arguments by atheists and skeptics about what we feature in this column. One recent phone call said, “The creation is too complex for rational discussion. All I know is that God didn’t do it.” In response to that, we want to look at the simplified cosmological argument.

The mechanics of matter/energy interactions are indeed complex.
However, it is an ignorant argument to suggest that since they are difficult to understand, you can reject God’s existence. Here is the simplified cosmological argument for God as the creator that anyone can understand, even without understanding scientific theories.

STEP 1: BELIEVE THAT YOU EXIST. If you don’t believe that you exist, then the whole discussion is untestable, can’t be falsified, and is beyond scientific investigation or debate.

STEP 2: BELIEVE THAT THERE WAS A BEGINNING TO THE PHYSICAL UNIVERSE. All observations and the laws of physics demand a specific start to the creation – be it the “big bang” or some other description.

STEP 3. BELIEVE THAT THE BEGINNING WAS CAUSED. If there was a beginning to the physical creation, something or someone had to be the cause. Matter/energy can not create itself.

STEP 4: DECIDE WHAT THE NATURE OF THE CAUSE WAS. You have two choices here. Either the cause was an intelligence, or the cause was blind, mechanistic, opportunistic chance.

STEP 5: EXAMINE THE EVIDENCE. What does the evidence show? Is chance a statistically reasonable possibility? Is there evidence of design and purpose in the creation?

STEP 6: DEAL WITH THE QUESTION OF WHY THERE IS SOMETHING INSTEAD OF NOTHING. Philosophers can debate this as long as they wish, but if the cosmos is a product of blind chance, then there is no meaningful purpose to human existence. It also means that evil does not exist, and all events on the planet revolve around the survival of the fittest. If there is an intelligence that resides in a personal God, then evil exists, and the war between good and evil gives a purpose for all human existence.

The book of Job explores these points, and Jesus Christ clearly laid out our purpose in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 – 7. You are here for a reason. Not only do “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalms 19:1) but so does the Earth, and so do God’s people. That is the simplified cosmological argument.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

The Bible Contains All We Need to Build a Faith to Live By

The Bible Contains All We Need to Build a Faith to Live By

How do we know that the Bible does not omit some books that should have been included? How do we know that all of the books in the Bible should be there? Skeptics and religious writers frequently raise these questions. The truth is that we don’t have to be in doubt about whether the Bible contains all we need to build a faith to live by.

When someone claims that some “lost book” should be included in the Bible, the simple answer is to read it. You don’t have to be a biblical scholar to see very quickly that the books of the Apocrypha should not be part of the canon, or accepted Bible books. The apocryphal books either contain material already covered in the Bible or contradict Paul’s writings and the teachings of Christ.

When the Church decided what books to include in the canon of the New Testament, they used four criteria:

1) APOSTOLICITY – Was the book written by an apostle or companion of the apostles?

2) ORTHODOXY – Is the writing in agreement with the teaching of Christ?

3) ANTIQUITY – Did the writing come from the generation of the apostles?

4) USE – Was the writing widely accepted and used by the early Church?

When a manuscript is not included in the biblical canon, it is easy to see why. A good example is the gnostic writings which include elements of Greek mythology, astrology, food taboos, ascetic practices, and intermediary beings. Gnostics liberalized sexual morals, and some even questioned marriage.

The Bible contains all we need to build a faith to live by. Its clarity and completeness stand unique. Second Timothy 3:16 tells us that scripture provides all we need to be “completely furnished to all good works.” That excludes attempts by opponents of the Bible to dilute or modify the teachings.

— John N. Clayton ˆ 2021

Reference: “Canon of the New Testament” in The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Abingdon Press.

On Valentine’s Day

On Valentine's Day

People in many countries observe various customs on Valentine’s Day, February 14, although, in a few areas, it’s celebrated in July. Valentine’s Day is not an official holiday in any country, but it is certainly a cultural holiday.

Saint Valentine’s Day originated as a Christian observance in honor of a saint (or saints) named Valentinus in the third century. It may have been an effort of early Christians to purify a pagan Roman holiday called Lupercalia, which celebrated fertility and occurred around February 14.

In the fourteenth century, Valentine’s Day came to be associated with romantic love. Today it has become highly commercialized due to merchants taking advantage of the giving of gifts to loved ones. Many legends about this day have come down concerning its origin and reason and, many countries have their own customs on Valentine’s Day.

One thing is sure—we need more love in the world.
I am not talking about romantic love, but the kind of love that is meant by the ancient Greek word “agape.” The Apostle Paul used that Greek word in his letter to the church in Corinth in the first century. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). Whether on Valentines’s Day or any other day, we can never get too much of that kind of love.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

What Do You Worship?

What Do You Worship?

What do you worship? Notice that I didn’t ask “if” but “what.” Webster defines worship as “homage paid to something bigger than you are.” The word “homage” means reverence. 

We live on a river, and every Sunday morning, we see boats going by containing people paying homage. The worship of salmon, pike, and perch is as far as some people go in paying homage. On our way to the church building, we see multiple cars and trucks pulling boats, most of which are headed for Lake Michigan. At the lake itself, we can see people who worship the lake by spending massive amounts of money on elaborate yachts.

For those of us who aren’t blessed with massive amounts of money to spend on material luxuries, there is still a need to be careful about what we worship. There are eight different Greek words in the New Testament used to describe worship in a negative framework. 

Doxa – Luke 14:10 – Worship to gain honor from human beings

Eusebeo – Acts 17:23 – Objects made by humans to show a person is pious.

Therapeuo – Acts 17:25 – To fulfill an ego need of God, not for our benefit.

Threskeia – Colossians 2:18 – Ceremonial use of angels, spirits, visions, etc.

Latreuo – Acts 7:42 – Astrology – Worshiping celestial objects.

Proskuneo – Matthew 2:2, 4:9, 8:2, 28:17, etc. (59 times) – “To kiss the hand forward.” Worship of the physical Jesus here on Earth.

Sebazomai – Romans 1:25 – Worship of nature or animals.

Sebomai – Matthew 15:8-9, Acts 19:27 – Preacher worship, reverence for a spiritual teacher. (See also Acts 8:9-11.)

James 1:27 and Matthew 25:31-40 describe what God wants. Worship is for our benefit, not God’s. What do you worship? The materialist is continually struggling for more until either their resources run out or death comes no matter how much they spend. Acts 2:42-27 describes the activities of the ordinary people in worship. They devoted themselves to teaching, fellowship, unity, prayer, and communion. They met daily for spiritual growth and addressed the needs of others. 

Worship brings the joy of sharing and giving and knowing that we have nothing to fear at death because a better existence awaits us. Worship is not for show or because God needs us. It is a personal time with just us and God – not angels or objects. It is a daily activity seen in what we do, not what is done to us. It is a way of life that blesses those with whom we come in contact. 

What do you worship? Worship God today and here and now. God will open doors for you to give and to bless, and life will be full of contentment. 

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Behavior Has Consequences

Behavior Has Consequences

There are many long-term consequences for the things we do in life. In the Old Testament, we see a constant principle at work, that when humans engaged in things contrary to God’s will, there were ultimate harmful consequences. Moses said it concisely in Numbers 32:23: “… you have sinned against the Lord: and be sure your sin will find you out.” Our behavior has consequences.

Many times, the Old Testament tells about long-lasting consequences because someone sinned. David’s family suffered for years because of His sin with Bathsheba. Unfortunately, innocent people can be afflicted because of the sins of someone who lived long before them. The COVID pandemic has taken place mainly because people failed to follow good health practices and the medical establishment’s advice. I have personally seen that play out in the life of my son, Timothy.

Tim lived in a group home with two other men who, like him, were afflicted with past medical problems. The organization running the home took care of the men, providing meals, laundry, bathing, and medical care. Tim suffered blindness, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, schizophrenia, and mental disability, but all of those conditions had been static for years.

In early November, one of the caregivers tested positive for the virus, and two weeks later, Tim became ill and tested positive. His condition deteriorated rapidly, and he was hospitalized. After a week of treatment, including being on a respirator, Tim was released from the hospital and sent back to his apartment. The COVID virus had weakened him to the point where he could not take care of himself. He had to be fed, and he couldn’t dress himself or go to the bathroom on his own. His speech had deteriorated to the point where it was almost impossible to understand him.

After two weeks of attempts to help him resume some of the normal self-care, it became clear that he was progressively weakening and had to go back to the hospital. This time he didn’t have the COVID virus, but it had catalyzed the muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy, and he was in serious trouble. At this writing, Tim is in a nursing home where he spent Christmas, unable to sit up or eat any food that is not pureed. Tim is an innocent victim of the mistakes others have made and evidence that behavior has consequences.

It’s a mistake to believe that if I don’t see immediate negative consequences of my actions, they must be okay. That applies in all areas—not just COVID-19. We see it in decisions involving child-raising, marriage, sexual relationships, money management, and social relationships. James says it well when he reminds us that our lives are but a vapor lasting only for a very short time. (See James 4:13-17.) We need to be consistent in conduct, conforming to the lifestyle to which God calls us. Because behavior has consequences, failure to do so results in problems for ourselves and others.

— John N. Clayton © 2020