Losing Faith in Religion

Joseph Cotto in a recent opinion column quotes a couple of polls in which around 20% of the respondents stated that religion is not an important element in their lives and less than half have confidence in organized religion.  He notes that most of our major social institutions—political, financial, and the media—have lost the confidence of the American people. [1]  The American people are disillusioned with all these institutions because they are more interested in power, prestige, and money than in the welfare of the people they serve.

Joseph Cotto is not the first to notice this loss of faith in organized religion.  Years ago Evgeny Barabanov stated:

The world, of course, has abandoned the Church, since the traditional groove reserved for creativity turned out to be too restricted for man. . . Today it is not the Church but the world which is creating a new civilization, and it is solving the problems with which it is faced on the basis of its own understanding of existence.

Barabanov stated the reason Christians have abandoned participating in the transformation of the world is because it is too difficult and we have tried to make our religion simpler and easier by making it only a belief system. [2]  But that is not the plan God has for us.  As we have demonstrated in this blog, God requires that we change our soul so we become like him and that is difficult to do but it is something that is within the capability of each of us.  What we will discover is that when our soul becomes more like God, we will participate in the transformation of our world.

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[1]   Joseph Cotto, “Are we losing faith in religion?”, The Madison Courier, July 17, 2014, p. A3.

[2]   Evgeny Barabanov, “Schism Between the Church and World”, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, ed., From Under the Rubble, New York:  Bantam Books, 1975, pp. 180-186.

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Words of Encouragement

While on vacation last week, I read A Question of Honor which is a sad recent history of the nation of Poland.  Prior to World War II, Britain and France had signed a treaty with Poland in which they agreed to come to Poland’s aid if Germany invaded Poland.  World War II started when Germany did invade Poland and the Polish people, contrary to all the jokes about the ineptness of their response, fought with courage and effectiveness—they destroyed a sizable percentage of German tanks and aircraft. [1]  Britain’s response was to bear “witness to Poland’s suffering with all the windy rhetoric they could muster”.  The Polish government’s response to Britain was to make “clear that the words of encouragement, while appreciated, were useless”. [2]  What was needed was military action.

Why do we understand the utter uselessness of words in this case but still cling to the idea that a confession of faith in Jesus is the only way of salvation?  Words can be well intentioned, words can motivate us but without action those same words are meaningless.  Saying we believe in Jesus is a good first step but unless we actually follow Jesus’ teachings, that statement of belief is worthless.

Justin Martyr in his First Apology states:

And let those who are not found living as He taught be understood to be no Christians, even though they profess with the lip the precepts of Christ; for not those who make profession, but those who do the works, shall be saved, according to His word:  “Not everyone who saith to Me, Lord, Lord shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven”. [3]

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[1]   Lynne Olson and Stanley Cloud, A Question of Honor, New York:  Vintage Books, 2004, Kindle location 1166.

[2]   Olson and Cloud, Kindle location 1122-1132.

[3]   Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin Martyr”, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, p. 168.

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What We Do

John Ruskin, a British art critic, writer and philanthropist said:  “What we think, or what we know, or what we believe is, in the end, of little consequence. The only consequence is what we do.”

What we think changes by the day, hour, or minute.  What we know changes throughout our entire lives.  What we believe is largely a matter of the culture in which we were raised.  What we think, know, or believe are just potentialities.

What we do turns these potentialities into reality.  What we do has consequences for ourselves and others.  What we do cannot be changed.

That is why salvation is not a matter of belief in Jesus and his death for our sins.  To say we believe in God and Jesus is of little consequence; anyone can say that.  To actually do what God and Jesus instruct us to do, to actually pattern our lives after Jesus’ example, would be life changing.

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No One Can Know

In a review of the TV movie Resurrection, a critic states that the idea that “no one can know” is an erroneous platitude and criticizes the movie for a character who expresses the view that John the Baptist was correct in asking whether Jesus was truly was the Messiah because no one can truly know where Christ came from.  The critic emphatically states that every Christian should know exactly where Christ was before he came to earth.  [1]

The only way we can know where Christ was before he came to earth is from what the Bible teaches us.  It is no question that we can know how someone interprets what the Bible says about where Jesus was but how do we know that interpretation is correct?  Just because some interpretation is widely accepted, does that automatically mean it is true?  There are plenty of examples in history where the majority was not correct and that includes the history of Christianity.

It is a fact that God created us finite.  The implications of being finite include the fact that in certain areas it is true that we cannot know.  Paul tells us we see in a mirror dimly and what we know is only part of reality (I Corinthians 13:12).  The entire books of Ecclesiastes and Job teach us about our limits.

The task for us is to discern between what we can know and what we cannot.  And just because an idea is included in the doctrines of our particular faith does not make it true.

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[1]   Megan Basram, “Signs of Life”, World, April 5, 2014, p. 28.

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Suffering for Our Faith

In our last blog, we quoted 1 Peter 2:18-24 within the context of our relationship with human governments and authorities.  In this passage Peter tells us if we suffer when do wrong it is of no benefit to us.  However, if we suffer unjustly it is a gracious thing (other translations say it is commendable) in God’s eyes.  Peter uses Jesus as an example.  Jesus did not retaliate when he was persecuted but endured his suffering.

What kind of God do we serve who thinks it is commendable to suffer?  Why does God think that suffering is good for us?  It almost sounds as if God is sadistic.

However, focusing on the suffering aspect is placing the emphasis in the wrong place.  Notice that he does not say we will suffer for our beliefs but for our actions.  What God requires of us is that we live our lives in a certain way.  He requires that our soul is changed so it becomes like him.

When we live our lives as God would have us live, we will encounter those who do not follow God’s way and this will produce a conflict.  If these individuals have power over us they can do things that are detrimental, or at least not beneficial, to us.  The normal human response is to retaliate in some fashion.  If we retaliate then we become like those who persecute us and we become less like God.  However, God desires that we continue to do what is right even when we encounter opposition.  If we suffer as a result, our actions and the resultant suffering we endure are commendable to God.

The only way this world will change is if we each practice our faith even when it costs us.  How many of us have suffered because of our faith?

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The American Revolutionary War

This week we in the United States will celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  Was the signing of the Declaration and the war that followed justified according to the Bible?

Ecclesiastes 8:2 tells us we to obey the rulers of the land for God’s sake.  Romans 13:1-2 also says we are to be subject to the ruling authorities because they have been appointed by God.  Paul says to rebel against authority is to rebel against what God has established.  Titus 3:1 says we are to be obedient to rulers and authorities.  I Peter 2:3-17 commands us to submit to every authority established by men.

The colonists of the American Revolution did not submit to the authorities in existence—the British government.  The reason was because the British government was unjust—the Declaration is a list of grievances.  In I Peter 2:18-21, immediately after the passage on submitting to every authority, Peter tells servants to submit even to unjust masters.  He uses Jesus as an example of someone who suffered unjustly and states that this is commendable to God.

Does the Bible ever say it is permissible to rebel against unjust authority?  The only time the Bible instructs us to do so is when the authority demands we take an action which is contrary to God’s command (Acts 5:29).  Read through the Declaration.  While the British government was most definitely unjust, did they require anything of the colonists which would cause the colonists to take an action which was contrary to God’s requirements of them?

Just something to think about and debate this July 4th.

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Infallible Doctrines

Any religion such as Christianity has certain core beliefs that define that religion.  How do we Christians determine the validity of the doctrines we hold?

We have no evidence for most of our doctrines.  While we have very good evidence that Jesus was a historical person and that he was killed for his teachings, we cannot prove Jesus was God and that he died for our sins.  We must take most of our doctrines on faith.

We base our doctrines upon what the Bible says.  How do we know our doctrines are correct?  How do we know we have correctly interpreted the Bible?  One way is to learn from others.  Roman Catholics depend upon the pronouncements of its Popes and councils. Protestants depend upon the beliefs of the denomination or church to which they belong.

How do we know our church’s doctrines are correct?  Do we take that on faith?  Is it valid to have faith in fallible humans?  On some doctrines, there are disagreements within the Christian faith—that is why we have so many different Christian religions and denominations.  For example, some Christians debate the validity of the doctrine of the trinity. [1]  This debate is based upon different interpretations of what is said in the Bible.   So who decides which interpretation of the Bible is correct?  As we have stated many times in this blog, we are finite.  Being finite means while the Bible is infallible, our interpretation is not.

We Christians agree we are finite beings yet when it comes to our doctrines, we act as if we were infallible.  Why?

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[1]   Anthony F. Buzzard, and Charles F. Hunting.  The Doctrine of the Trinity.  New York:  International Scholars Publications, 1998.

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Compartmentalizing

Does Christianity impact all areas of our lives?  Evidently some Christians believe that it does not.

For example, there are plenty of Christian business persons who follow Machiavelli’s rules in business instead of Christ’s.  One illustration is given by Joel Belz, the founder of World magazine and concerns following the Golden Rule in business.  Specifically he concluded that paying employees the minimum wage is essentially telling them “If I could legally pay you less, I would”.  Is that treating your employees as you would want to be treated?  Should not a Christian business owner or manager work to maximize their employees’ compensation?  A business owner or manager definitely wants to maximize their own compensation.  Of course a business must take into consideration the other financial requirements of a business such as the need to provide a healthy return on investment for the shareholders, the need for capital to reinvest in the business, and paying their vendors on time. [1]  However, the principle of treating one’s employees as one would want to be treated remains valid.

Another example of compartmentalizing Christianity is Christian churches and denominations suing each other over church property instead of following Paul’s teaching of resolving such issues with the Christian community (1 Corinthians 6:1-8).  Why do we ignore this teaching while we criticize the world and other Christians for ignoring other teachings of the Bible?

Can we compartmentalize our Christian faith so it only applies to certain areas of our lives and not others?  If the answer is yes, how do we decide to which areas we apply the teachings of Christ and which areas we do not?  Did Jesus ever compartmentalize his teachings?

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[1]   Joel Belz, “Upside-down Golden Rule”, World, February 22, 2014, p. 3.

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What is Christianity?

Alan Watts in his book The Book On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are asks if there is more to Christianity than doing good and imitating Jesus.  He maintains that we need to discuss the universe and our place in it, who we are, life, love, pain, death, and does our existence have any meaning. [1]

Now Christians will say Christianity addresses all these issues.  The problem is that we are finite.  Given that, how do we know we have correctly interpreted what the Bible says about these topics?  How do we know we have properly thought through these facets of our existence?  As we have stated before, our beliefs are similar to scientific theories—they are based upon what we currently know but are subject to revision as new evidence surfaces.

What we do know for certain is how we should live our lives (John 16:7-11, Romans 2:12-16).  Why did God give us certainty in this area of our lives?  The reason is that God’s purpose for our lives is the change of our soul so it becomes like him.  The universe, our place in it, who we are, life, love, pain, death, and the meaning of our existence are just tools he uses to accomplish that task.  While we should learn all we can about the universe and our existence, they should not divert us from the main task of renovating our soul so it becomes like God.

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[1]   Alan Watts, The Book on the Taboo against Knowing Who You Are, New York:  Vintage Books, 1989, pp. 4-5.

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Money and Possessions

Derrick McCarson has written a book on Ecclesiastes called Journal of a Mad Man.  He makes one point that I have not seen before.  He states:  “our use of money and possessions may be the single greatest indicator of our spirituality”.  He backs up this statement with the following facts about what the Bible says about money:

  •    Sixteen of the 38 parables of Christ deal with money
  •    More is said about money than prayer
  •    There are over 500 verses on both prayer and faith but there are over 2,000 on money and possessions. [1]

Now McCarson is not advocating a prosperity gospel.  He only says how you use your money and possessions is an indicator of your spirituality.  Jesus’ parable of the talents illustrates this (Matthew 25:14-18).  Before he leaves on a journey, a man gave one of his servants five talents, another two, and another one (note the Bible says this distribution was made according to the servant’s ability).  When the master returned, his concern was what each servant had done with the talents given them.  If the servant had put his talents to good use he was praised.  If he did not put his talents to good use, he was harshly criticized.  The master’s concern was not the total amount of money the servant had made but how servant used whatever was given to him.

Money and possessions are like any other ability God has given us.  As we have previously stated in this blog (May 8, 2011) the Bible lists the use of our abilities as one aspect of our salvation.  It is therefore vital that we best utilize whatever abilities we possess.

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[1]   Derrick McCarson, Journal of a Mad Man, Eugene, OR:  Resource Publications, 2014, p. 88.

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