“Religion” is a bad word in the world today. Many religions are violent, abusive, dishonest, and the source of war, waste, and murder. When I gave my lectures on science and faith in England, Ireland, and Scotland, I found that people were very interested in what I was presenting, but if I used the words “church” or “religion,” they were repulsed. In many countries today, telling someone you are a Christian invites a very negative response. Why do people have a negative attitude toward Christianity, and what can we do about it?
People have seen destructive actions by people who claim to be Christians. If you take a history course, you will learn about the Crusades, religious wars, slavery, racial hatred, and racial abuse, from the Tulsa tragedy to lynchings in the south. In modern times, we have seen people robbed of their money, their property, and their virginity by people who claimed to be Christians. There is no defense for that behavior. It is wrong and flies in the face of what Jesus Christ taught and lived. Furthermore, those actions create a negative attitude toward Christianity.
Surveys in the last ten years have shown that more and more people are rejecting “religion.” Religion is usually defined as human attempts to reach God. According to recent surveys, when asked if they believe the Bible is God’s Word, 20% of Americans say “no.” A substantial percentage of Americans cannot tell you anything about the Bible except what they have heard critics say. They also admit that they doubt God’s existence and reject the Bible’s moral teachings. The answer to this situation is education about Christ and His teachings.
If we are to change the trend away from God and the negative attitude toward Christianity, we must start at the very bottom. We must assume the world around us knows nothing about God, Christ, or the Bible. Unfortunately, that is the situation for many people today, and starting with the basics is necessary. Here are some basic places to begin:
1) How do we know there is a God? What is the evidence? 2) What is God, and how do we know that the spiritual world exists? Naturalism teaches that the material world is all there is. 3) What are the properties of God, and how are they relevant to humans? 4) What is a human, and why are humans special? What uniquely sets us apart? 5) Why do the teachings of Christ make sense, where do we find them, and are they reliable?
We address all of those questions on our websites and in our free materials. However, as long as preachers and religious leaders spend their time, money, and energy attacking each other and promoting emotionalism and entertainment, a negative attitude toward Christianity will continue. We must share our faith in love.
The first week of November is White Ribbon Against Pornography or WRAP Week. Pornography is a problem faced by all churches as well as by our society in general. Several years ago, we worked with Jimmy Hinton to prepare a video series titled “Spiritual Warfare: Safeguarding Churches From Child Predators.” It has been disappointing that even though we provide the material for free, we have had difficulty getting congregations to use it because they deny that they have a problem.
93% of boys and 63% of girls are exposed to internet porn before age 18. The average age of exposure is 11.
Neurological studies show that pornography has a detrimental impact on the brain.
The probability of divorce doubles for men and women who begin viewing pornography.
50% of Christian men and 20% of Christian women use porn.
Sex trafficking survivors report that they were forced into trafficking by acting in pornographic productions.
The Bible is full of warnings to encourage believers not to get involved in this kind of behavior. Proverbs 23:7 tells us, “As a man thinks, so is he.” In Matthew 5:28, Jesus said, “..whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her in his heart.” Romans 13:14 tells Christians, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its demands.” First Corinthians 10:12 tells us, “..let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”
Hollywood, television productions, and novels rush to promote sexual images because sex sells in America today, thanks to our society’s rejection of God and the Bible. With that in mind, we should not let WRAP Week be the only time we address this problem. Instead, the Church needs to take the lead in teaching about the destructive nature of pornography and the beauty of sex as God intended it to enrich the relationship of men and women in marriage.
When I was an atheist, one thing that always turned me off was the seeming arrogance of religious people I knew. The “better than thou” attitude is not only unwarranted, but it is unscriptural. The Bible gives us no room for arrogance.
The classic biblical rebuttal of the attitude of arrogance is the parable Jesus taught in Luke 18:9-14. This parable was about a “religious” guy who did everything right religiously and a tax collector who was a Jew who betrayed his fellow Jews by working for the Roman government.
The Pharisee did everything right and told God about it. His opening line was, “I thank you that I am not like other men.” Then he went on to talk about all the good things he did. The tax collector looked down at the ground and “smote his breast,” which was a symbol of sorrow in that culture. Then he begged God for forgiveness. Luke tells us that Jesus “spoke this parable to those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others” (Luke 18:9).
Jesus and the apostles hit this theme over and over. In Luke 7:37-50, we see Christ contrasting the woman who was a sinner with the Pharisee, a part of the religious elite. Jesus praised her and held her actions up as exemplary while he condemned the Pharisee. In Romans 2:17-24, Paul addresses the hypocrisy of religious people who claim to be knowledgeable but don’t practice what they preach. In Matthew 5:14-16, Christ holds up His followers as people who are “the light of the world” for how they live.
It took me a long time as an atheist to realize the fact that “sitting in the chicken coup doesn’t make you a chicken.” Sitting in the Church building doesn’t make you a Christian. The assembly of Christians is not a venue to be entertained but a hospital for people seeking to be what God called them to be. If you are reading this and have been turned off by the arrogance and self-righteousness of people who claim to be Christians, please understand that those folks turned off Jesus Christ as well.
Philippians 2:5-8 reminds us that Christ “humbled himself by becoming obedient even to the point of death, even death on the cross.” How can any of us be very self-righteous or arrogant when we think about that statement. There is no room for arrogance in Christianity.
An interesting battle is going on in the Indiana state legislature, which could affect the rest of the country. Senate Bill 263 would make it illegal to restrict the right to worship even during pandemics or natural disasters. The statement made by those promoting the bill is, “The right to worship is guaranteed by the United States and Indiana constitutions, and no one has the right to infringe on that right.”
This is a complex issue. Telling people they can’t assemble because they might get sick or make someone else ill puts the government in the position of deciding who can worship and who cannot. Which is more important, having the right to worship anywhere, anytime, and in any way you wish or having authorities decide when and where to allow worship? The potential for abuse is very high either way.
We suggest that carefully following the biblical teachings and examples would solve this issue. The first-century Church did not own buildings and worshipped in small groups in private homes. Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). The need for large groups with elaborate services and many participants is a product of church entertainment, not the worship of God.
No one can take away our right to worship if our worship is doing what the Bible encourages us to do and following the example of the first century Church. There are interesting legal questions in this discussion, but the right to worship is not threatened no matter what the legislature decides.
In recent years, several hate groups have grown up in the United States. Most of us know the Ku Klux Klan history, but today there are neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups gaining publicity. There are “anti-hate” groups to oppose the hate groups. That may sound like a good thing, but some anti-hate groups paint anyone who stands for anything as part of a hate group. Sometimes hate groups and anti-hate groups are hard to distinguish.
A good example is the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). This organization claims to track and expose 940 active hate groups operating in the United States. They define a hate group as having “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people typically for their immutable characteristics.” What they mean is that any group opposing same-sex marriage, radical Islam, or abortion they classify as a hate group. Their list of hate groups includes Christian organizations. Comparing a Church that opposes abortion to the Ku Klux Klan is absurd, but that is the case with the SPLC.
Because we have printed those things, we receive threats of lawsuits and violence. In the past, we have had some violence and vandalism directed towards our ministry. We urge anyone who donates to hate groups and anti-hate groups to be sure you know what causes you are helping. For the anti-hate groups, find out who they are labeling haters. Both the hate groups and anti-hate groups oppose some of the teachings of Jesus Christ. In the words of Joshua to the Israelites, “Choose you this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). Practice love and follow the teachings of Christ, even if it leads to persecution.
Does Jesus hate women? That may sound ridiculous to most of our readers. However, there is continual rhetoric in the media and from skeptics suggesting that Christianity is opposed to women’s rights and tries to oppress women. A careful study of Jesus and women and the early Church’s history shows that isn’t the case.
The world at the time of Christ was in turmoil. People ignored God’s teachings and moral laws, women were considered property, and they were totally dependent on men. A young woman was supported by her father and then her husband. Her primary role was to bear a male child. This treatment of women led to polygamy, prostitution, and easy divorce. Jesus comes on the scene and overturns all of this. In John 4, Jesus talks to a Samaritan woman without denigrating her. He amazed His disciples by breaking all social taboos by teaching her. In Luke 10:38, Jesus enters the house of Martha and treats her and her sister Mary with respect. Mary Magdalene played a vital role in the ministry of Jesus, and she was the first person He appeared to after His resurrection. In Luke 8:1-3, she and Joanna, a Roman steward’s wife, are portrayed as financial backers of Jesus’ travels. Jesus defended the woman taken in adultery in John 8:3-11. Does Jesus hate women? No, He treated women with dignity and respect. The Church in the first century did not oppress women. In Titus chapter 2, Paul gives instructions to old and young men and women and slaves regarding how to live. The reason for his instructions is “to make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” to unbelievers. Acts 16:14-15 describes a woman named Lydia, who ran a high-end business, owned her own home, and had a household. We are reminded of Proverbs 31 as we read this. Martha, mentioned earlier, also owned a home where her brother and sister lived.
First Corinthians 14:26-40 addresses a chaotic worship assembly. Paul tells various people to be silent or to speak one at a time. He instructed married women to remain silent and address their questions to their husbands at home. Paul was concerned about the chaotic assembly causing outsiders to think the worshippers were crazy (verse 23).
In 1 Timothy 2:9-15, Paul encourages women to dress modestly and not usurp authority. The Greek word here is “authenteo” and means “to exercise the power of one’s self,” according to the lexicon. An overly aggressive woman could intimidate and discourage a young Christian preacher like Timothy. Paul’s instruction for women to protect the role of men and allow them to lead was important to the Church’s growth then, as it is today.
Does Jesus hate women? No. Did the early Church oppress women? No. Neither should it do so today. Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, MALE NOR FEMALE, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” We need to love each other enough to allow everyone to have a role in the work of the Church. Caring enough to serve is not oppressing or denigrating anyone.
A major issue in America today is COVID-19 and church closings. The problem was highlighted recently when Minnesota Governor Tim Walz ordered churches to remain closed while shopping malls and bars were opened. Many politicians are trying to get votes by advocating that churches be opened even though they haven’t been in a church of any kind for a very long time.
We have pointed out that the biblical concept of the Church is not a huge building with massive numbers of people meeting together. The Church is people (1 Corinthians 3:16), and we need for worship is two people, “gathering together in the name of Jesus” (Matthew 18:20). Is it valid to compare bars and churches?
In The Week magazine for June 5, 2020 (page 6), mentioned several cases where Churches have spread the Covid-19 virus. In a choir practice, one singer infected 52 of 61 choir members, and two of them died. In Arkansas, an infected singer passed the virus to 35 members of the choir who, in turn, infected 21 in the community, and three died. In Frankfort, Germany, a church service infected 107 people, even though social distancing was in place.
In this time of COVID-19 and church closings, we must find ways of worshiping together without exposing others to the virus. We can do this by meeting outside, by having services on YouTube, Facebook, Zoom, or by meeting in small groups. Endangering our congregations’ vulnerable members to a potentially lethal virus is not a way to worship God.
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.
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.
One of the frustrations we face is the decline of faith in God. Along with that is the fact that many congregations and preachers don’t recognize the problem. We were encouraged to see Phil Sanders point out the problem in the November (2019) issue of The Search Light, the newsletter of SearchTV.org.
Here are some of the comments Sanders presented, and to which we say “Amen.” He pointed out the obvious fact that there are atheists who don’t believe in God. But he also noted that there are practical atheists who may or may not intellectually believe in God, but who leave no doubt by the way they live that God does not matter. He reminds us that research has shown that the “nones” are the fast-growing religious group in America today. They are the people who claim to have no religious affiliation and are, therefore, practical atheists.
Sanders also pointed out some disturbing data, including the fact that 26% of the American population has no religious affiliation, up from 17% in 2009. Those who describe themselves as Christians are 65%, down from 77% a decade ago. That trend carries across the board among churches. Congregations of the Church of Christ have lost 192,224 adherents in the past 12 years, an average of 16,000 per year. In 2018 there were 11,965 congregations of the Church of Christ in the U.S., and in 2006 there were 12,963. That is an average loss of 83 congregations per year, or one every 4.4 days. Since 1980 the decline has been 6.3%.