Friday, September 18, 2015

Ashamed of the Gospel: The Charge of “Fundamentalism”

Shame is an excellent tool to silence opposition, and Pope Francis knows how to use it, charging “fundamentalism” to silence theological consideration.

On September 16, 2015, the Catholic News Agency (CNA) wrote:

·       Religious fundamentalism keeps God at a distance, and keeps believers from building bridges with others, Pope Francis reflected on Sunday during a radio interview.

That’s odd! I thought that God wanted us to believe certain fundamentals of the faith like:

·       "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)

Aren’t we supposed to be assured by the fundamental truth that Christ died for our sins and, on the basis of this, to know that we have peace with God? However, it seems that, according to Francis, this fundamental truth would “divert [our] minds from him”:

·       “Our God is a God who is close, who accompanies. Fundamentalists keep God away from accompanying his people, they divert their minds from him and transform him into an ideology. So in the name of this ideological god, they kill, they attack, destroy, slander. Practically speaking, they transform that God into a Baal, an idol.”

I had no idea that this fundamental truth would “keep God away!” However, it is this truth coupled with the truth of my utter unworthiness that draws me lovingly to those I would ordinarily hate. (Okay, I have much more growing to do in the area of love.)

I am therefore mystified that, according to the CNA:

·       The Pope said that no religion is immune from the possibility of fundamentalism. He said fundamentalism, instead of creating a bridge, creates a wall that blocks encounter with another person. It seeks ways to disagree. With fundamentalism, he said, “you can’t have friendship between peoples.”

Instead, it is these Christian fundamentals that shoot down my arrogance, belief in my entitlement, and humble me to follow Jesus. It is these truths that have motivated me to reach out in friendship and to forgive those who hurt me. Why? Because of another fundamental – I must forgive as I have been forgiven.

Instead, it matters what fundamentals are embraced. If “world conquest” is the fundamental, this will have a stifling effect upon friendship. Also, if “violent socialistic revolution” is the fundamental or ideal, then chaos and destruction is guaranteed.

However, if love and justice are our fundamentals, we can expect better fruit and the blessings of God.

It is worthy of note that Francis has his own fundamentals. Here are some of his sayings:

·       "You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others. There is a limit. Every religion has its dignity."

·       "A Christian who does not protect creation, who does not let it grow, is a Christian who does not care about the work of God; that work that was born from the love of God for us. And this is the first response to the first creation: protect creation, make it grow."

·       "God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life. Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve."

·       "The 'big bang,' that today is considered to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the creative intervention of God, on the contrary it requires it."

·       "This is playing with life. Beware, because this is a sin against the creator," he said, denouncing euthanasia as a "false sense of compassion" in November. The comments came on the heels of Brittany Maynard's advocacy efforts to die with dignity, but he did not address her death specifically.

·       As bishops ended a two-week conference in October by rejecting landmark wording that would soften the church's stance toward homosexuality and divorce, Pope Francis said: "God is not afraid of new things" and called on the church to adapt to "changing conditions in society."

Clearly, Francis has his own fundamental beliefs, and he is entitled to them. However, it does not seem that he extends this same courtesy to others. This disguised intolerance for the theology or fundamentals of others is also apparent in certain New Age thinkers.

Eckhart Tolle, Oprah Winfrey’s New Age guru, raises Francis’ objection:

  • “If you go deep enough in your religion, then you all get to the same place It’s a question of going deeper, so there’s no conflict here. The important thing is that religion doesn’t become an ideology…the moment you say 'only my belief' or 'our belief' is true, and you deny other people’s beliefs, then you’ve adopted an ideology [theology or fundamental]. And then religion becomes a closed door.”
Everyone has their ideology, even Tolle. He too is a fundamentalist! His ideology is mystical and experiential as opposed to rational. His ideology excludes no less than the ideology of the Ayatollah. He even obliquely appeals to his own ideology to defend his fundamentals.

We are all fundamentalists. Instead, the question should be, “Do I have a theology or fundamentals that accords with reality, justice, and love?” Francis has been pushing an anti-capitalistic, pro-socialistic fundamental and castigates the church for not following suit.

However, the church has many reasons to question the implementation of more entitlement programs in the place of biblical interventions.

Charles White, professor of Christian Thought and History at Spring Arbor University, writes about one biblical intervention:

  • The Methodists made such an impact on their nation that in 1962 historian Elie Halevy theorized that the Wesleyan revival created England’s middle class and saved England from the kind of bloody revolution that crippled France. Other historians, building on his work, go further to suggest that God used Methodism to show all the oppressed peoples of the world that feeding their souls on the heavenly bread of the lordship of Christ is the path to providing the daily bread their bodies also need. (Mission Frontiers, Sept-Oct 2011, 6)
  • Coming to Christ through the Methodist movement changed the loves of a million people in Britain and North American in the eighteenth century….most of these people and their children moved from the desperation of hand-to mouth poverty to the security of middle-class life as they made Christ their Lord and experienced the impact of His power on their economic lives. As these people moved up the social ladder, they began to influence the political life of their nation. They helped to transform Britain from an eighteenth-century kleptocracy – where the powerful fueled their lives of indulgence by exploiting the poor into a nineteenth century democracy – which abolished slavery and used its empire to enrich the lives of every subject of the crown. (9)
Before this glorious movement of the Spirit, England had been in turmoil. White explains:

  • The police were also overwhelmed by the fighting and killing of the mob. The law executed people for 169 capital crimes, but the regular march to the gallows did nothing to make the streets safe at night. Sexual immorality was common at all levels of society, and the nation was overwhelmed with illegitimate children. (7)
What made the difference? Wesley formed people into small groups where they would pray, confess their sins, and pledge to follow Christ in all His teachings or fundamentals (Matthew 28:19-20)! No mention was ever made of entitlement programs.

According to God’s revelation to the Prophet Jeremiah, the fundamentals of biblical instruction are essential – the one thing that is worthy of boasting:

  • This is what the LORD says: "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
According to the Apostle Peter, the knowledge of the fundamentals is the basis for all forms of blessing:

  • Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:2-3)
Let us therefore not be ashamed when others attempt to shame us as “fundamentalists.”

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