Saturday, September 14, 2013
A recent Gallup Poll found 77% of Americans believe religion is losing its influence on American life. This compares with 1957, when 69% thought religion was increasing its influence on the culture. The highest point was December, 2001, when 71% of the folks thought this way. This was right after 9-11.
Reality? For all it's philosophical stance, as a predominantly Christian culture, America has largely paid lip-service to The Gospel. The rise in public opinion about what Gallup calls "religion,' has been largely emotional. the high-water mark of 71% is a case in point. Patriotism [survival?] was running high and God was on everyone's lips.
After WWII, the same religious euphoria prevailed. Foxholes tend to clarify the realities of life and death as little else does. Men, coming home from war, saved in many cases while in the military, were zealous about Christ and the rise in Evangelistic zeal, as illustrated by Crusades and Campaigns, reflected that zeal. Additionally, there was a 'Baby Boom.'
By the late 1950's, teenagers were everywhere, with more wealth and leisure time than any society this world had ever seen. Youth Ministries were popping up all over the world. It looked good! It felt good! God was making inroads on every front, or so it seemed.
The late 1960's brought reality home, as social, political and racial unrest erupted in city after city. Stirred by the idealism of college campuses and an unpopular (and frightening) war, fueled by drugs, sensual music, Free Love and radical political rhetoric, America woke up!
The euphoria of the 1950's was apparently not real! The perception of peace and prosperity masked a systemic reality: Religion [Christianity] was not as dominant as we thought.
Why? In large part because of the Peace & Prosperity. To a greater degree, because of the Evangelistic Campaigns, both in churches and in Colosseums. These evangelistic appeals relied too much on emotionalism.
There is an excitement generated by public meetings. Religious meetings tap into a deeper part of our psyche. The atmosphere, the staging, the music, the 'star power' of some preachers as well as simply preaching, as a technique, are all calculated to bring folks to a climax: The Decision!
Herein lies The Rub! Salvation is NOT, strictly speaking, a Decision! That Americans have assumed as much may be why so many think themselves to be Christians, while their lives speak a very different language.
We see it in the divorce rates among Evangelical Christians, the drug rates, the abortion rates, the fashions, the worldliness and greed. We see it in the theatrics, the music, the carelessness of what is now being called worship. We see it in the gullibility, foolishness and strange behaviors of church-goers, not to mention the preachers. It is not uncommon to hear about a popular preacher involved in some form of immorality: sex, drugs, alcohol, thievery, etc.
It may be Gallup has it right when they speak of Religion, because biblical Christianity is not like any other religion. Christianity has always been about a heart change. In this sense, it has always been a minority influence.
In an Open Letter to the founder of La Repubblica, Pope Francis stated that non-believers would be forgiven by God if they followed their consciences.
La Repubblica is a radical / socialist newspaper that has moderated to a center-left political stance, in recent years, and was the largest circulation newspaper in Italy in 2011
This is astounding! Why then did Jesus die? What was that all about? What, then, is the pope's role in the world? Why have a Roman Catholic Church? Or any Churches?
The questions are legion. They range from core doctrinal issues to philosophical issues. Not the least of which is: "What Is My Conscience?"
Is my conscience a reliable spiritual guide? Does it operate independently of my mind or my spirit? Is it an independent quality or is it influenced by my heart? Can my conscience be corrupted? Should I let it lead? Is Romans, chapter one, wrong?
What about faith? Will my conscience guide me to Jesus? Is my conscience being protected from all the influences my mind and body experience? Why does the Roman Catholic Church put so much emphases on being holy? What, then, is sin? What is Catholic Confession all about? Why does the Catholic Church insist it's devotees accept [by faith?] the existence of saints? or what these saints presumably can / are doing for 'The Faithful?'
The questions just keep coming! Then there's what the last pope said! His comments on this subject were just the opposite from this one. What are we to make of that?
One Catholic man, asked this question, said the Pope was not speaking 'ex cathedra' -- that is with the authority of the church or of God, merely speaking 'off hand.' So, as a pastor, I can have one doctrine in the pulpit and another on the street, off hand? Or is it that what I say, after studying the issue and preparing the statement can be different from what I really believe?
The New Testament is filled with references to my conscience, not all of them good. What am I to make of this?
The questions just keep coming!
In some circles there is great concern that Israel is NOT observing God's calendar, in observing the High Holy Days. Reference is being made to Psalm 81 where God declares He gave Israel up to their own hearts' lust because they walked in their own counsels and did not hearken unto Him.
Here's how it goes: God declared, in Leviticus, that The Day of Atonement [Yom Kippur] would be celebrated on the first day of the seventh month. The Hebrew Calendar, starting with Passover, counts the 7th month as beginning with the New Moon of our September. If this is followed, Yom Kippur is Tuesday [Sep't 17]! Not yesterday [Friday, Sep't 14].
Big Deal? To some it is. The Day of Atonement is a Big Deal to observing Jews. They do not have a Temple, nor do they have an altar or Holy of Holies in which to actually celebrate God's atonement. All this was removed with the crucifixion of Christ, Who did away with atonement [the covering of sin], by fulfilling God's Plan of Redemption on The Cross.
However, religious Jews still observe the atonement as a religious rite, waving live chickens over peoples' heads -- a practice being condemned by animal rights groups. The Point is not atonement, per se, but whether or not Israel is following God's Word or simply operating according to human invention.
According to Jonathan David, Israeltoday.co.il, "After Israel's captivity, the Jews stopped waiting and watching for the Lord to reveal the exact date of these holy days, by means of the New Moon. Since the 4th century, Jewish leaders have held that Rosh Hashanah / Feast of Trumpets should never fall on a Sunday, a Wednesday or a Friday. Why? Because God's Covenant People were driven out of the land of Israel and scattered throughout the earth, making it hard to know whose observation of the New Moon and which location on earth should have been used to determine the date."
Will Israel ever get it right? Yes! When Jesus returns! We are told, in the scriptures, that during the Righteous Rule of Jesus, we will celebrate The Feast of Tabernacles in The Kingdom [Zech. 14]. There is no doubt that it will be celebrated on the correct day!
It's a mystery to me why so many people reject The Gospel! Are they brain-dead? The Bible says only a fool believes there is no God [Ps. 53]. This type of fool [there are at least 4 different types in the Bible] is stupid! wicked! impious! Maybe this is the answer, since rejecting The Gospel brings the specter of an unpleasant eternal hell.
I ponder these things and then remember what the scriptures say: "For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way." [II Thess. 2:7] This adds a spiritual dynamic beyond intellect, alone.
Human beings are characterized in The Bible as sinners, from birth: born in iniquity. We are 'cut off' from God, unable and unwilling to repent and believe on The Lord Jesus Christ. But here's an additional limitation: The Enemy of our soul is at work hindering men and women from believing!
The old English "let" is confusing. It's referencing the restraining work of the Holy Spirit that keep Satan's efforts from succeeding completely. This restraining ministry will continue until the Spirit of God is 'taken out of the way.' Of course, then, Satan will have almost carte blanche to work his wiles and deceive the masses, even more.
Dispensationalism sees The Church personifying this restraining power, until she is taken from the earth, in The Rapture. This easy solution does not answer some other important questions, however. Satan's liberty to deceive and enslave does not become a reality until the middle of the Great Tribulation, which has given rise to the Mid-Tribulation Rapture Theory. Rapture issues are not the purview of this treatise.
The Point is: The Church represents at least A restraining influence in this world, perhaps THE restraining influence. The reality that sin and wickedness is once again on the increase makes us wonder about how close we are to Christ's Return. In the past couple of centuries we have had The United States as the bastion of Christian Testimony. We have looked to the U.S. for hope and for a hedge against the evils of this world. No More!
Now, the U.S. is at the forefront of wickedness. We just celebrated(?) forty years of Roe v. Wade. Did you know in Liberal, Humanist, Progressive, Socialist France, it is a crime to abort a child after the first Tri-mester? In Russia, their Parliament, the Duma, has recently backed a draft law that outlaws homosexual propaganda.
At home? We're doing all we can to open the flood gates of wickedness and immorality, in every area of society. Social policy, economic policy and government policy. We WANT to get God out of our life and out of our thinking. Keep in mind, God is still restraining wickedness. Can you imagine what the future will look like, if Jesus tarries? It apparently will be worse, if He doesn't!
The Church, The Bride of Christ, is at her weakest point in recent memory. In the past we dealt with men and women who sought to depart from the cardinal doctrines of The Faith, creating new and different doctrines. We called this Liberalism. Today, we are watching folks who think themselves to be Christians flocking to large, impersonal, venues to be titillated and entertained and calling it worship of God.
This is not the worst, however. The newest [and oldest] fad is mysticism. Christians are embracing a mystical form of Christianity where how The Word of God makes them feel or how various techniques can get them out of their bodies, so as to merge with The Spirit, or how these techniques can improve upon what we know of God or of His Word, passes for worship and/or study and/or meditation.
Christian Yoga, Lectio divina, Emerging Church Movement, where feelings matter more than reason; a growing number of young pastors fixated on teaching about sex, in graphic terms, others playing with alternate spiritualities and doctrines. These are what we read about, not Evangelistic efforts or about strong families or dedicated Christians.
There are more "mysteries" afoot than we know. The mystery of iniquity is just one. Mystery Babylon is another. We'll talk about that on Sunday Evening, from 8 - 11 pm. Join Us!
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