We have mentioned before the role the Church has in fighting loneliness, including anxiety, depression, dementia, and thoughts of suicide. Now, heart specialists and the United States Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, have expanded the negative role of loneliness. Murthy says that “feeling disconnected from friends and family has the same impact as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.” According to the Cleveland Clinic, the physical effects of loneliness include a 29% higher risk of heart disease, a 32% higher risk of stroke, a 50% increased risk of developing dementia, and a 60% increase in premature death. The bottom line is that social isolation affects the heart.
The importance of being actively involved with people, such as in a church congregation, cannot be over-emphasized. “Going to church” for an hour once a week does not help much in dealing with this issue. The Church described in Acts 2:41-47 was a group of believers who met together daily. Not only were they together sharing meals and times of worship, but they addressed each other’s needs. Church leaders today must understand that being active in a church cannot happen if the church is not active. I had a brother who was an atheist and retreated from family and all social contact. Alcoholics Anonymous was his only tool to fight social isolation, and his participation in that program was very sporadic. He died prematurely of heart failure.
Hebrews 10:24-25 gives a formula for avoiding social isolation. “Let us consider and give attentive, continuous care to watching over one another with a view to arousing one another to brotherly love and right conduct; not forsaking the gathering of ourselves together as some do, but encouraging one another…” Church attendance is declining worldwide, and much of that is because people see no value in what the Church is doing. Saving souls is important, but contributing to each other’s well-being must not be neglected because social isolation affects the heart.
I recently received a comment from a woman saying, “I don’t need another burden in my life, and going to church is just another depressing burden.” How sad it is that Christians sometimes view going to church as a depressing burden. It should be a blessing.
Part of this problem may be that many preachers burden their listeners with guilt and unfulfilled expectations. Gathering with fellow believers should give us support and encouragement. A church service should, first of all, be a time of praising God and expressing gratitude for what He has done for us as individuals and as a group. It should then be a time to share what God has done in our lives and to encourage one another.
One of the most essential parts of “going to Church” is to experience love. Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “Now I am giving you a new commandment that you are to love one another. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples by your love for one another.” Having kind words to say to each other, asking questions, expressing concerns when there is a crisis in someone’s life, and giving a hug are all part of loving one another.
Isn’t it interesting that the difference between the English words “live” and “love” is the single letter “I.” The more we take “I” out of the way, the more we can give and experience love. The Greek word translated as “love” here is “agape,” indicating caring about the worth of every person. There is joy in doing what God calls us to do, but obsessing about “I” and losing love can make us think of going to church as a depressing burden.
If you don’t understand this, I suggest you look more carefully at why you “go to church” or what you are missing if you don’t go. If your religious experience is reading an essay or watching a service on TV, you are missing the essential personal contact. If you think of going to church as a depressing burden, there is something wrong.
An atheist whose life is guided by “survival of the fittest” cannot comprehend the kind of love that Jesus taught. By my count, Jesus used the word “agapao” 108 times in the gospels. The next most common word He used for “love” was “phileo,” meaning “friendship,” which He used 18 times. Church involvement gives us a chance to consider the worth of all humans, eliminating racism, sexism, envy, jealousy, and all phobias that afflict humans.
Going to church should be a blessing. If the Church is functioning as God intended, we will leave every visit to our local congregation encouraged, uplifted, and ready to face the world and spread God’s love.
Medical science has now shown that loneliness contributes to bad health. One of the benefits of being a Christian is what the Bible calls “koinonia.” That Greek word can be translated “fellowship” or “communion.” In Acts 2:42, the first-century Church met in constant fellowship, and Hebrews 10:25 urged Christians not to forsake gathering together. We see in the scriptures that Christ’s disciples were together constantly. Today, fellowship with people who share your values and beliefs is a significant contributor to good health.
A study of 18,000 diabetic adults in the United Kingdom showed that “loneliness may be a bigger risk for heart disease in diabetes patients than a bad diet, smoking or a lack of exercise or depression.” Researchers found that over ten years, the chance of developing cardiovascular disease was up to 26% higher in patients with high loneliness scores. Dr. Lu Qi, a professor at Tulane University, said, “We should not downplay the importance of loneliness on physical and emotional health. I encourage my patients with diabetes who feel lonely to join a group or class and try to make friends with people who have shared interests.”
God’s statement that “it is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18) should not be restricted to the marriage relationship. Loneliness contributes to bad health, and God knows what humans need for good health. I have observed that men who lose their wives and live alone have a reduced life expectancy, but the Church provides a remedy for that loneliness. On a personal note, I remember vividly the negative effect my wife’s death had on my health. My relationship with other Christians in the months following her death has contributed to my living to see my 85th birthday.
“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.