Friday, October 12, 2018

THE MARGINALIZATION AND REBIRTH OF THE CHURCH




What is happening to the Church? The Church had been the light and the conscience of society. Today, few are listening to it. Why not? Generally speaking, when society becomes more affluent, it becomes focused on its pleasures and fulfillment. With this orientation, truth is experienced as a ball and chain, as a disapproving parent.

According to Indian Scholar Vishal Mangalwadi, the moral decay in England had become so advanced that:

  • For three decades, magistrates, squires, and clergy turned a blind eye to the continual drunken and brutal attacks by mobs and gangs on [John] Wesley and his supporters. Wesley endured physical assault with missiles of various kinds. Frequently bulls would be driven into the midst of the congregations or musical instruments blared to drown out the preacher’s voice. Time after time, the Wesleys and Whitefield narrowly escaped death, while several of their fellow itinerant preachers were attacked and their homes set on fire. Hundreds of anti-revival publications appeared, as did regular, inaccurate, and scurrilous newspaper reports and articles. And the most virulent attacks, not surprisingly, came from the priests, who referred to Wesley as “that Methodist,” “that enthusiast,” “that mystery of iniquity” [anti-Christ], “a diabolical seducer, and imposter and fanatic.” (The Book that Made your World)

Preaching the Bible puts us out-of-step with our culture and sometimes even with our church, especially when society gives itself over to pleasure seeking. However, there are also other reasons for the marginalization of the Church. Sometimes, it’s a matter of the message we preach. In some cases, it is an unbalanced but Biblical message.  

There has always been the danger to swing to either the extreme of legalism (the undo emphasis upon our responsibilities) or to antinomianism (the emphasis upon God’s grace at the expense of our Biblically mandated responsibilities).

Instead, it was a message of grace and obedience to the grace, which had propelled America forward. The successes of America had become such a sensation to much of Europe that Alexis de Tocqueville spent several years in America to investigate the source of its success:

  • I sought for the key to the greatness and genius of America in her harbors...in her fertile fields and boundless forests; in her rich mines and vast world commerce; in her public school system and institutions of learning. I sought for it in her democratic Congress and in her matchless Constitution. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great. (Democracy in America, 1835)

Is our preaching still charged with the “flame of righteousness?” I think not! Instead, the seeker-sensitive mega-churches have found that grace sells in a world of self-indulgence, and it should. It is with grace that human responsibility must begin. God reminded Israel of His grace and mercy before He delivered to them the Ten Commandments:

·       And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:1-2 ESV)

The rationale for following the Law had to be clear before the Law would be received. The fear of God had to be based on the foundation of the mercy of God:

·       But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. (Psalm 130:4)

If God did not forgive, there would be no reason to fear and follow Him. However, following Him is a must. It is a message that permeates the entire Bible (John 14:21-24; John 15:7-14; 1 John 5:2-3; Matthew 6:33). We can even argue that these two concepts are inseparable. To trust God is to obey Him and to do what He tells us to do.

Therefore, our churches have to be ignited with the “flame of righteousness,” a light that cannot be ignored. However, a flame requires fuel – a sincere confession of sins, repentance, and the assurance of God’s love and forgiveness. Contrition along with prayer also fuel the flame of revival.

What happens when the Church returns to its God and His Word? Here’s how one person described the impact of the revival in Wales (1904):

  • Judges were presented with white gloves: they had no cases to try. No rapes, no robberies, no murders, no burglaries, no embezzlements, nothing. The District Consuls held emergency meetings to discuss what to do with the police, now that they were unemployed. Drunkenness was cut in half. The illegitimate birth rate dropped 44 percent in two counties within a year of the beginning of the revival. (The Rebirth of America, The Arthur S, DeMoss Foundation, 64)

REVIVAL: CHRISTIANITY’S FALL AND RISE IN ENGLAND



When the Christian voice revives, society thrives; when it is silenced, society decays. The history of Western nations testifies what happens when its Christian voice is silenced as it had been in early 18th century England. Indian Scholar Vishal Mangalwadi writes,

  • In 1738, two centuries after the Reformation, Bishop Berkeley declared that religion and morality in Britain had collapsed “to a degree that was never before known in any Christian country.” The important reasons for the degeneration of Protestant England were the restoration of the monarchy and the supremacy of the Anglican Church at the end of the seventeenth century. Once the Anglican Church came back to power, it began to oppress the Puritans and expelled more than four hundred conscientious Anglican clergymen. They had become priests to serve God, and therefore they refused the oath of allegiance to William of Orange.” (The Book that Made your World, 259)

With this compromise, the Anglican priesthood became utterly corrupt:

  • A succession of archbishops and bishops lived luxuriously, neglecting their duties, unashamedly soliciting bishoprics and deaneries for themselves and their families. Parish clergy followed suit. (260)…Corruption spread like cancer. (261)

The church is the conscience of society. When it is silenced, corruption and moral decay are free to spread to all segments of society. Mangalwadi continues:

  • The moral darkness of the age expressed itself in a perverted conception of sport, which, like alcohol, brought attendant evils in its train, such as further coarsening of the personality, cruelty, and gambling. (262)

  • As for lawlessness, thieves, robbers, and highwaymen, Horace Walpole observed in 1751, “One is forced to travel, even at noon, as if one were going to battle.” Savagery showed itself in the plundering of shipwrecked vessels, lured by false signals onto rocks, and in the indifference shown to the drowning sailors. This was a regular activity along the entire coastline of the British Isles. (262)

Similarly, it appears that whenever the Christian influence is compromised by serving a second master (Matthew 6:24), social ills have multiplied. However, there are also revivals. Into this English malaise stepped the Christian John Wesley and others. However, their ministry to the poor and downtrodden wasn’t appreciated. No one likes their sins to be exposed:

  • For three decades, magistrates, squires, and clergy turned a blind eye to the continual drunken and brutal attacks by mobs and gangs on Wesley and his supporters. Wesley endured physical assault with missiles of various kinds. Frequently bulls would be driven into the midst of the congregations or musical instruments blared to drown out the preacher’s voice. Time after time, the Wesleys and Whitefield narrowly escaped death, while several of their fellow itinerant preachers were attacked and their homes set on fire. Hundreds of anti-revival publications appeared, as did regular, inaccurate, and scurrilous newspaper reports and articles. And the most virulent attacks, not surprisingly, came from the priests, who referred to Wesley as “that Methodist,” “that enthusiast,” “that mystery of iniquity” [anti-Christ], “a diabolical seducer, and imposter and fanatic.”

The foulest criticism is always clothed within a veneer of decency and concern for the “rights and needs” of others. How else can the establishment appeal to the masses apart from disguising their cause as moral and just! Despite the fierce opposition, Wesley and Whitefield persevered:

  • The biblical revival affected the lives of politicians. Edmund Burke and William Pitt were better men because of their Bible-believing friends. They helped redefine the civilized world…Perceval, Lord Liverpool, Abraham Lincoln, Gladstone, and the Prince Consort, among others, acknowledged the influence of the Great Awakening. The biblical revival, beginning among the outcast masses, was the midwife of the spirit and character values that have created and sustained free institutions throughout the English-speaking world. England after Wesley saw many of his century’s evils eradicated, because hundreds of thousands became Christians. Their hearts were changed, as were their minds and attitudes, and so society – the public realm – was affected.
      The following improvements came in a direct line of descent from the Wesleyan revival. First was the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of the industrial workers in England. Then came factory schools, ragged schools, the humanizing of the prison system, the reform of the penal code, the forming of the Salvation Army, the Religious Tract Society, the Pastoral Aid Society, the London City Mission, Muller’s Homes, Fegan’s Homes, the National Children’s Home and Orphanages, the forming of evening classes and polytechnics, Agnes Weston’s Soldier’ and Sailor’s Rest, YMCAs, Barnardo’s Homes, the NSPCC, the Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, the Royal Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the list goes on. Ninety-nine out of a hundred people behind these movements were Christians.

This redemptive story has been repeated many times throughout the history of the Church. Here’s how one person described the impact of the revival in Wales (1904):

·       Judges were presented with white gloves: they had no cases to try. No rapes, no robberies, no murders, no burglaries, no embezzlements, nothing. The District Consuls held emergency meetings to discuss what to do with the police, now that they were unemployed. Drunkenness was cut in half. The illegitimate birth rate dropped 44 percent in two counties within a year of the beginning of the revival. (The Rebirth of America, The Arthur S, DeMoss Foundation, 64)

If Christianity has been an engine for progress and reform, why then is it so widely despised? Perhaps it has something to do with this observation:

  • “I believe that, disappointed in not finding the field of licentiousness quite so open as formerly, [the traders] will not give credit to morality which they do not wish to practice or to a religion which they undervalue, if not despise.” (Charles Darwin)

If it interferes with our pleasures and power, discredit it!

When we place our orchids under lights, they thrive. When we thrust them into darkness, they eventually wilt. As many times as we repeat this experiment, the results remain the same. When the Christian faith flourishes, so does society; when it is suppressed, society decays. Evidently, there is something light-giving about this incredible faith and the God who stands by it.

ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE, MORALITY, DEMOCRACY, AND EVIDENCE FOR THE GOD OF THE BIBLE



Today’s secularism is an aggressive bulldozer. It will not tolerate any competition, pushing aside any opposition to its reign. Arrogantly, it believes that it can retain the benefits of Western civilization, while discarding its foundation – Christianity.

Alexis de Tocqueville, French statesman, historian and social philosopher, wrote “Democracy in America” (1835). It has been described as "the most comprehensive and penetrating analysis of the relationship between character and society in America that has ever been written."

Tocqueville wanted to understand why the American Revolution and American democracy had proved to be such a success. According to Tocqueville, freedom and morality both found their American incarnation in Christianity:

  • Religion in America ... must be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of that country; for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of it.

Tocqueville had been well acquainted with the demands for freedom and equality that had arisen from his own French revolution, ironically entailing the hatred and murder of the clergy. This revolution had confidently sought to push aside anything that stood in its way.  However, with the advantage of decades of hindsight, another revolution was something that the French wanted to avoid at all costs. With the lessons of his own French revolution in mind, Tocqueville wrote:

  • The safeguard of morality is religion, and morality is the best security of law and the surest pledge of freedom.

He therefore appreciated the moral constraints that he found so ubiquitously associated with democracy in the USA:

  • I do not question that the great austerity [self-control] of manners that is observable in the United States arises, in the first instance, from religious faith...its influence over the mind of woman is supreme, and women are the protectors of morals. There is certainly no country in the world where the tie of marriage is more respected than in America or where conjugal happiness is more highly or worthily appreciated...

Continually, he found that the fruitful expression of democracy was inseparable from its underlying Christian roots:

  • In the United States the influence of religion is not confined to the manners, but it extends to the intelligence of the people.... Christianity, therefore, reigns without obstacle, by universal consent; the consequence is, as I have before observed, that every principle of the moral world is fixed and determinate.

Tocqueville’s glowing observations of Christian faith and conduct do not claim that Christianity had rooted out all evils. It certainly didn’t. Nor had any other religion or government. Slavery remained a troubling example. This failure should not be used to discredit the entirety of the Christian influence.

 According to Tocqueville, America’s greatness was the outgrowth of what the churches were preaching:

  • I sought for the key to the greatness and genius of America in her harbors...in her fertile fields and boundless forests; in her rich mines and vast world commerce; in her public school system and institutions of learning. I sought for it in her democratic Congress and in her matchless Constitution. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.

In contrast, today’s secularism believes that it can retain the fruits of Christian society without its roots. It seeks to replace the Christian foundation with its own materialistic and relativistic presuppositions and expects that these will support the house of their dreams. Secularism wants to retain the ideas of equality and equal protection under the law – the Bill of Rights – but it fails to see that their materialistic foundation can’t support this structure.

Historically, materialism has not been able to provide the basis of these prized values. Just look at the workers’ “utopia” of the communistic atheistic nations! Why have these nations been so characterized by oppression and violence? From a strictly materialistic worldview, there can be no possible basis for equality or “unalienable rights.” Regarding humans materialistically, we find that some are tall and some are short; some are likable and some are not; some promote justice, while some undermine it; some contribute to society, while some prove to be very costly, even undermining the common good. Consequently, as seen through the materialistic lens, some have a positive value and some a negative one. Is there therefore any basis for equality from this perspective? Not at all!

Christians also have a materialistic lens. However, we are not limited to this lens. We also have a transcendent one. We see equality and the surpassing value of humanity even in the murderer, because this is the reality that God sees. We protect, because God protects, even the most unworthy. We maintain that all have unalienable rights because all have been created in the image of God. We, therefore, cannot deprive anyone of their unalienable rights, because they don’t come essentially from us but from God.

However, according to the lens of secularism, it is secularism that grants the rights. Consequently, it is secularism that can also retract those rights, as we see happening before us. There is nothing in a materialistic worldview that requires that our rights be unalienable. After all, everything is in flux, and so too should our rights be subject to the whims of the State!

Even worse, there is nothing in secular materialism that would argue in favor of equal treatment. If some humans have a positive social value, in that they contribute to the welfare of society, and some have a negative, there is no justification for not treating the negatively-valued humans in a negative way. Consequently, materialism cannot honestly value equality and unalienable human rights.

The same argument can also be applied to the concept of “freedom.” Where there is no material basis for equality, there is also no basis for equal freedom. (In fact, many secularists deny the reality of freewill and therefore culpability!) After all, some even vote “republican” and against gay marriage. Why should their ideas be tolerated? Well, as secularism secures its grip, any ideas that impede its agenda are no longer tolerated. The popular vote can be overturned by a single judge. The charge of “unconstitutional” can be brought against any objectionable idea or popular vote.

The secularism of today has lost its taste for freedom as the quest for self-fulfillment has proliferated. Tocqueville warned that democracy is vulnerable in this regard:

  • Men who are possessed by the passion of physical gratification generally find out that the turmoil of freedom disturbs their welfare before they discover how freedom itself serves to promote it.

What is not honored – our freedoms and liberties – will eventually whither and disappear. Tocqueville realized that the pursuit of “equality” could produce some bad fruit:

  • But there exists in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to attempt to lower the powerful to their own level, and reduces men to prefer equality in slavery to inequality with freedom.

The argument in favor of “equality” can be applied in many illegitimate ways. It can be used to produce “equality” between parents and their children, depriving parents of their rightful authority in favor of the Secular State. It can be used as a bulldozer to push aside any sexual distinctions. Consequently, it is argued that we should be allowed to marry or to sex anyone and any number we please. It is only our appetites that should set the limit. Meanwhile, there is no longer a willingness to regard the many studies that have unequivocally demonstrated that children (and society) do far better, in a myriad of ways, with their biological parents.

Our personal comforts and pleasures tend to reign over concerns about distant abstract principles such as freedom and justice. Therefore, Tocqueville warned:

  • A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years.

Democracy is a fragile flower, which requires regular cultivation. History is the test tube for our ideas, and the future will cast its dispassionate verdict on them. It will also give us what we deserve. Already, anti-Christian secularism is bearing its fruit in terms of abortions, STDs, suicides, criminality, and broken families throughout the Western world, starting with its radical incarnation in the sixties.

We will reap what we sow and sadly, we will probably find that Tocqueville’s words – “The safeguard of morality is religion, and morality is the best security of law and the surest pledge of freedom” – have proved prophetic.

Does this analysis prove the truth of the Christian faith? We should ask:

·       How is it possible that this ancient book – the Bible – has produced such good fruit? Why have the “truths” of communism, National Socialism, and Islam produced such devastation, while the teachings of the Bible have produced human flourishing?

Sadly, most will receive the final verdict only after it is too late.


Thursday, October 11, 2018

DO THE BENEFITS OF FAITH IN GOD OFFER ANY EVIDENCE FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD?




Theistic proofs take many forms. Some focus in on our very experiences. Take this example. If Christian beliefs enable the Christian to live longer and more joyfully, does this fact say anything about the existence of the Christian God? While the atheist will reject the idea that emotional, psychological, and physical benefits have anything to do with truth, most will acknowledge this relationship. Dag Hammarskjold, a late Secretary General of the UN, observed:

·       God does not die in the day we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illuminated by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond reason. (Markings)

According to the Deist Ben Franklin, we even need God for a moral society:

·       If men are wicked with religion, what would they be without it? (Os Guinness, The Journey, 119)

The benefits even extend to our most intimate relationships, as former atheist, Patrick Glynn, reports:

  • A 1978 study found that church attendance predicted marital satisfaction better than any other single variable. Couples in long-lasting marriages who were surveyed in another study listed religion as one of the most important “prescriptions” of a happy marriage. (God: The Evidence, 64)

For most Christians, such observations are as predictable as night following day. We have long seen how the Lord and His wisdom salvage our relationships. Glynn also relates religious belief to better physical and emotional payoffs:

·       “Religious belief is one of the most consistent correlates of overall mental health and happiness. Study after study has shown a powerful relationship between religious belief and practice, on the one hand, and healthy behaviors with regard to such problems as suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, divorce, depression, even, perhaps surprisingly, levels of sexual satisfaction in marriage, on the other” (Glynn, 61).

I can also attest to this. My life in Christ had freed me from my self-delusions (John 8:31-32), enabling me to see, to accept myself, and to satisfyingly navigate a reality of people and things.

In contrast to this, the atheist experience is admittedly dismal, although it might commence with a sense of freedom from guilt and constraints. Jean-Paul Sartre confessed that, “Atheism is a cruel, long-term business.” Bertrand Russell described his atheistic religion in this manner:

·       The life of man is a long march through the night, surrounded by invisible foes, tortured by weariness and pain… Brief and powerless is mean’s life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way. (Why I am not a Christian)

H.J. Blackham, a former director of the British Humanist Association, wrote:

·       The most drastic objection to humanism is that it is too bad to be true. The world is one vast tomb if humans are ephemeral and human life itself is doomed to ultimate extinction… There is no end to hiding from the ultimate end of life, which is death. But it does not avail. On humanist assumptions, life leads to nothing, and every pretense that it does not is a deceit. (Guinness, 106)

However, does any of this offer any objective evidence for the existence of God? I would say so. The things that Christians choose tend to bring objective benefits. This is even true of the animal world. They seem to have been endowed with “wisdom.” Grazing animals tend to eat nutritious greens and to reject the poisonous ones. They know to drink when they get thirsty, to find shade when they get hot, and to rest when they get tired. They are able to make positive adjustments to an objective reality that surrounds them, and they derive benefits from this.

Delusion is strongly associated with costs and not benefits. If we are deluded or simply mistaken about which roads to take to get to our destination, our trip will be more costly. Why then, if Christians are deluded, do they derive unmistakable benefits from their “delusion?” Instead, it would seem that Christians are doing something right, even wise and  in-touch with a reality that eludes others.

Is it possible to flourish through distorted thinking? Atheists claim that a belief in God is a matter of gross self-delusion. They have many pejorative phrases to describe faith in God: “imaginary friend,” “big-daddy in the sky,”  “complete nonsense,” or “self-delusion.”

However, these charges do not seem to be consistent with the reality of Christian lives and societies. Delusions put us out-of-touch with reality, especially a “delusion” that lies at the foundation of our entire lives. Instead of assisting us to constructively manage our jobs, relationships, home, and even driving a car – and all of these endeavors require accurate feedback – delusions about a God should interfere with any prospect of a positive adjustment. Instead, we flourish, even in the midst of hardships.

Why? Just consider riding your bicycle blindfolded. You would soon crash incurring great costs. Closer to home, consider someone who navigates life with rose colored glasses. He might think that all women secretly love him, and this will give him a high, at least for the short run. Consequently, he would not take “no” for an answer. I knew such a man who was arrested repeatedly for harassment because of this cognitive distortion.

Cognitive distortions inevitably cost. Consider a woman who was confident that she was performing better on the job than she really was. Consequently, she saw no need for improvement and was eventually fired.

Or consider people who are deluded that they were treating others caringly, when they really aren’t. Eventually, they lose their friends.

Generally speaking, distorted thinking costs. In All in the Playing, Shirley MacLaine confidently explained her distorted faith:

·       I went on to express my feeling of total responsibility and power for all events that occur in the world because the world is happening only in my reality. And human beings feeling pain, terror, depression, panic, and so forth, were really only aspects of pain, terror, depression, panic, and so on, in me!

How would such distorted thinking affect her relationships? Wikipedia concluded its posting on MacLaine this way:

·       In 2015, she sparked criticism for her comments on Jews, Christians, and Stephen Hawking. In particular she claimed that victims of the Nazi Holocaust were experiencing the results of their own karma, and suggested that Hawking subconsciously caused himself to develop ALS as a means to focus better on physics.

Understandably, her thinking created relational problems, among other things. Why then do those who believe in a “heavenly Christian sky-daddy” – an all-encompassing “delusion” – make positive adjustments, while others do not?

Perhaps instead, Christians are onto something real. But how? By a Book written two thousand years ago? How would following the Bible written by “camel-drivers,” enable us to successfully navigate life? It would be like expecting a buggy-whip to help us drive our Audi.

I hope that the next few chapters will demonstrate how the wisdom and practice of our ancient Book has led to positive changes, even on a global level.