The Return of True Christianity

One of the better articles from the past year or so regarding Christianity and the culture of American society was by Matt Lewis ( http://theweek.com/articles/448500/christians-silver-lining-losing-culture-war.) With the redefining of traditional marriage to equality based on preferences instead of biology, values held by Christians over the past 2,000 years are being systematically ignored and punished. As Mr. Lewis suggests in his article, this is not all bad news. It might be that the nominal, cultural Christianity that only pays lip service to the commands of our Lord will be stamped out. As falsely professing Christians and denominations pander to the culture, true Christianity will be revealed and empowered even as it is persecuted. I remember as a kid a missionary on furlough saying that their was nothing wrong with the American church that a good persecution wouldn’t cure.

Now, I believe that Christians, as Paul writes in Romans, are to live as peaceably with all men as is possible. I also know that it is not always possible. I know that our Lord said we would suffer if we followed Him. Peter writes that we should not be surprised when fiery trials come upon us. I do not wish to live in a time when Christians are ridiculed, fined and imprisoned for holding to Scripture. I do not wish for my children to live in such a time. I hope and pray, though, that now that such a time is coming upon us that we stand firm, holding onto our Lord without apology or shrinking back. I pray we engage those around us boldly, in love, seeking to penetrate the hardness of their hearts with kindness, compassion and the truth of God’s Word.

Now is the time for followers of Christ to examine themselves and see if they are really His or not. John tells us that we will know who was a real believer or not by seeing if they stay or leave. Do we love Christ or American Christianity? Do we follow Jesus when it is easy or because He alone has the words of life? Do we follow the changing laws of men or the unchanging Law of God? Do we cave in to keep jobs, homes, and retirement funds or do we stand firm and trust in the Lord to preserve us and provide for our needs?

Erick Erickson over at the website RedState.com coined the phrase, “You will be made to care.” No longer can the church sit on the sidelines, wringing hands and moaning the sad state of the Union while failing to engage it. Now we need to be salt and light, shining God’s truth and exposing deeds of evil. We need to be preserving what is good and pure and enhancing the communities where we live. We need to be busy practicing good works so that unbelievers see us and give glory to God for us being His representatives and presenting His presence to them. More than ever we need to stand up and choose this day whom we will serve – God or current society. You cannot serve two masters. We need to be in serious prayer for the courage and strength to stand in the face of opposition as well as for perseverance to endure hardship without shrinking.

We’re pilgrims on the journey
Of the narrow road
And those who’ve gone before us line the way
Cheering on the faithful, encouraging the weary
Their lives a stirring testament to God’s sustaining grace

Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses
Let us run the race not only for the prize
But as those who’ve gone before us
Let us leave to those behind us
The heritage of faithfulness passed on through godly lives

CHORUS:
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful

After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone
And our children sift through all we’ve left behind
May the clues that they discover and the memories they uncover
Become the light that leads them to the road we each must find

Artist — Steve Green

 

The Burden of Grief

In reading Martin Luther’s Letters of Spiritual Council,” I was struck by how profound many of his insights into healthy grieving were. Since I currently work as a hospice chaplain, I spend extended time with patients and families both before death occurs and up to 13 months after it happens, I see many types of grieving behavior. Those who grew up being admonished for not “getting over” the loss of a loved one quickly or for grieving “inappropriately” would benefit from reading his wise words. Far too often, Christian leaders have used 1 Thessalonians 4:10 (do not grieve as those who have no hope) out of context. This verse does not preclude mourning, wailing or giving lament to one’s loss. It does prohibit the giving up of one’s hope of ever seeing a fellow believer again or losing one’s self to self destructive despair.

Luther insists that while we should not become hysterical, there is nothing disgraceful about mourning, nothing unfaithful in giving vent to one’s feelings (just read Job or Habbakuk.) The stiff upper lip mindset we inherited from Victorian England should have been retired long ago. Indeed, a Christian can grieve harder over death because he or she knows that death is unnatural, a consequence of the Fall. Death is described in the New Testament as our enemy. We mourn over what should have never been — separation in this life. We grieve hard over the death of non-believers, knowing their fate. The fact that they are lost to us forever cuts us deeply.  Luther, in fact, suggests that it is a sign of unfaith when people never mourn.

In “All Our Losses, All Our Griefs,” by co-authors Kenneth Mitchell and Hubert Anderson, there is this quote: “To be a follower of Christ is to love life and to value people; things that God has given us in such a way that losing them brings sadness.” p38.

Jesus wept over Lazarus’ death. Jewish people and many other cultures hired mourners and grieving went on for several days, sometime weeks. A whole book of the Bible, Lamentations, deals with loss as do many Psalms. Scripture records that the mourning for Jacob’s death lasted 70 days and for Moses 30 days (Genesis 50:3 and Deuteronomy 34:8) Why would we think that a few days off of work is all a person needs to come to terms with a significant loss.

We mourn – not at the thought of a person being lost to us forever (with the exception of non-believers), nor because we do not know where they are. We mourn because we valued them as a person made in God’s image, a unique person. We miss their camaraderie, their love, spontaneity,  friendship and a thousand other things that made them special to us. We need to let people grieve fully. We need to stop telling them to “get over it” and “move one.” Let God work the healing process. He is far better at it than you could ever possibly be. There is a time for everything, including mourning. It doesn’t last forever — one morning joy will come again and surprise us when it does. The deeper one loves the deeper one grieves. The deeper one loves God, the better one can lean on Him for strength in times of sorrow. He is well acquainted with grief. Jesus is described as a Man of Sorrows and one who suffered many losses.

I mourn my losses deeply, more deeply as the years go by, but I don’t fly into hysterics because I know my God and He is good. I trust in Him to make sense of it for me when I can’t see any sense in it. I have faith that He is both just and merciful in equal measure and that He knew what was best for my loved one’s life.

When you council with the grieving, let them know that they have permission to cry, to feel lonely, to hurt, to vent feelings without being judged. The best way to help them grieve is to help them remember the loved one. Share memories, share experiences with them. This sharing time helps to normalize the reality of death and allows the griever to know that their loved one’s life mattered to others. By talking about them, sharing pictures and moments about them it keeps alive, in a way, and diffuses the pain. Many times it allows laughter to mix with the tears. We are called to share each other’s burdens and the burden of grief is one that all of us can use help shouldering.

 

The Dangers of Fideism

One of the most subtle dangers presenting itself to the church today is that of fideism. Fideism is, in a nutshell, a subtle rejection of learning, reason, knowledge and logic in preference to that, “simple, ol’ time religion.” Those who subscribe to fideism will tell you, ‘I believe what I believe, don’t confuse me with the facts.” Faith and knowledge are held as enemies towards one another. This attitude flies in the face of such Scriptures as 2 Peter 1:5, which tells us to “make every effort to add knowledge to our faith.”

At the heart of fideists, is an unteachable spirit. I sat through one sermon not too long ago, where the pastor sidetracked towards the end of his message and said something to the effect of, “I just preach Jesus. I don’t preach “ism’s”. Not Arminianism, Calvinism or any other “ism”.” That sounds real good but is a stupid statement. Arminians and Calvinists also both preach Jesus. They just present Him differently. Even Jehovah Witnesses preach Jesus — just not the Jesus of Scripture. Anyone who has read through Romans, Ephesians and Hebrews would never characterize Christianity as a simple “religion.” This minister was not interested in understanding the differences, just in building a straw man on both sides while he stood as a third alternative, setting himself up as above all those who were putting “man-made” doctrines over Scripture. This, of course, is a poor argument, since both sides believe their interpretations come straight from Paul, not Calvin or Arminius.

It is hard for me to sit through what I call theatrical preaching. The kind of preaching where the volume and rhetoric overshadow any exposition of Scripture. The kind where “Amens” are elicited after every sentence instead of allowing them to be a spontaneous response from a convicted soul. The type of preaching where yelling, crying, laughing and whispering are masterfully orchestrated to bring the audience to an emotional decision instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to convict.  In my boyhood days we used to call this type of preaching “chicken-walking.” Whenever I hear someone stomping, snorting and stepping on their pant-cuffs and claiming they are more spiritual than a pastor who has labored long and hard to rightfully divide the Word of Truth it irks me.

Fideism is on the rise. It is infiltrating both city and country churches. There are many in today’s pulpits who sneer at those “television preachers” while they are doing the same thing on a smaller scale at their own churches. There is a suspicion of their brethren who have earned degrees in theology and ministry and this is passed on to their congregations and fostered to create a culture of ignorance. God wants us to reason with Him, He says so Himself in Isaiah. There were many things Jesus said He wanted to teach His disciples but they hadn’t yet spiritually matured enough to handle it. Discipleship is suffering in our churches because of fideism. It is a dangerous thing to let people study God’s Word in depth because it might make them question the interpretations they have heard from the pulpit for so long.

Roman Catholicism understood this. That is why they resisted their Mass and their Scriptures being in any language other than Latin for so long. It could be why so many pastors fight for KJV only also. Quite a large percentage of Americans cannot read at a 12th grade level (which the KJV is) nor understand Shakespearean English. If they could read Scripture easily (understandably) they also might question. And we all know that  a questioning mind is dangerous to those who value control over teaching.

It is far past time to to help our brothers and sisters add knowledge to their faith. That is what Ta Ethne is all about. Join us in bringing a greater knowledge of our faith to believers worldwide  so that they can be better equipped in sharing their faith.