Saving the World

Is it our responsibility as Christians to convert the world to Christianity? The great commission Jesus left us—“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15 ESV)—would seem to indicate that we must.

The problem is there are plenty of examples of Christians whose efforts to spread the gospel are an unmitigated disaster—televangelists who use the gospel to enjoy a lavish lifestyle, priests who use their position to prey on young children. And then just look at all the different Christian religions and all the different denominations within the Protestant religion and their differing views of salvation. If I was an unbeliever, who should I believe? The problem is that we Christians are sinful and finite creatures and we do not always correctly present, in word and deed, God’s plan for our salvation. So why would God use such a defective means to communicate a message on such a critical subject—the eternal salvation of our souls?

The Bible tells us the Holy Spirit’s responsibility is to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8) and he can do a much better job of that then we can. Our job is to assist in that effort by being a light on a hill (Matthew 5:14-17), by being the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). I like the way Rosaria Champagne Butterfield states it: Salvation is God’s work; service is what our responsibility is—selfless love and sacrifice. [1]

As for the great commission, my dad has said for many years that a better translation of it is: As we go about the world we are to share with others what Christ has done for us. Our responsibility is not to convert the world but to be an example of the impact Christ can make on the life of one person. God will take care of the rest.

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[1]   Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, Pittsburg, PA: Crown & Covenant Publications, 2012. P. 67.

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A Train Wreck

In both this blog and my book, The Renovation of Our Soul, we have shown the Bible teaches that salvation is more than a belief system; it is the change of our soul so it becomes like God. What is this change like?

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield describes her conversion as a train wreck. [1] Why would we think that following Christ would not be disruptive to our lives? The Bible teaches that each one of us has a sinful nature. Can this sinful nature be changed without effort, without discomfort? If following Christ is not disruptive to our lives, can we really claim to be Christians?

Butterfield states that conversion does not involve saying magic words, words to the effect that we believe in Jesus and his death for our sins. [2] In fact she takes the preachers who teach this easy salvation to task. She states:

Making a life commitment to Christ was not merely a philosophical shift. It was not a one-step process. It did not involve rearranging the surface prejudices and loyalties of my life. Conversion didn’t “fit” my life. Conversion overhauled my soul and personality. It was arduous and intense. [3]

I highly recommend you read her book.

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[1]   Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, Pittsburg, PA: Crown & Covenant Publications, 2012. pp. 1-2.

[2] Butterfield, p. 35.

[3]   Butterfield, p. 34

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Doing Business with Sinners

There have been several cases reported by the new media of Christians who refuse to do business with individuals of the LGBT persuasion. Why do Christians refuse to serve the LGBT community? It is because the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin and Christians do not want to be seen as supporting that lifestyle.

However, the Bible teaches that all of us are sinners (Romans 3:10). Everyone with whom we Christians do business has sinned and will continue to sin. So why do we classify some sins as being so beyond the pale that we must refuse to do business with those who commit them? Where in the Bible does it tell us this is what we should do? What the Bible does tell us is that the consequence of all our sins is the same.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 NIV)

God, in the above passage, does not single out any one of the above sins as worse than the others. So if we believe that we should not do business with those who commit the sin of sexual immorality will we also refuse to serve those who exhibit the sin of hatred, discord, jealously, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy? If we do, we will not have any customers.

Or take the case of divorce between heterosexual couples. Everyone acknowledges the Bible states that divorce (with the exception of infidelity) is a sin (Matthew 5:31-32). So will the Christian community refuse to serve a heterosexual couple who are divorced and want to marry?

Instead, maybe we should follow Jesus’ example.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:10-13 NIV

Tax collectors were among the most despised people in Jesus’ era and yet Jesus associated with them. To others who had sinned Jesus exhibited compassion; he did not condemn them but counseled them to leave their life of sin (John 8:1-11). If we claim to be followers of Christ, should we not do the same?

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Get Out of Jail Free Card

A person wrote to Billy Graham stating they were tempted to do something they knew was wrong. They asked if it mattered whether they gave in to this temptation because God has promised to forgive our sins. [1]

This question essentially views Christianity as a “get out of jail (hell) free” card. It is not an unusual way of looking at Christianity because the apostle Paul faced the same question.

The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 5:20-6:4 NIV)

In the above passage Paul states that Christ’s work on our behalf includes his death for our sins but also his resurrection so that we can live a new life. This new life is just as much a part of salvation as Jesus’ death for our sins. If our doctrine of salvation made this plain instead of stating that salvation is through belief in Jesus alone, then we might see fewer people trying to use Christianity as a “get out of jail free” card.

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[1]   Billy Graham, “God will forgive every sin except one”, Tulsa Beacon, February 4, 2016, p. 2B.

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A Slave Religion

I’m reading Edward J. Larson’s book, Summer for the Gods. It is about the Scopes trial in 1925 in a small town called Dayton, TN and it concerned a Tennessee law forbidding the teaching of evolution in public schools. In setting the stage for the trial, Larson writes about some of the main characters and describes Clarence Darrow’s view of Christianity. Darrow viewed “Christianity as a slave religion, encouraging acquiescence in injustice, a willingness to make do with the mediocre, and complacency in the face of the intolerable”. [1] Is this what Jesus taught us to do? Some might think so because of the passages quoted below:

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. (Luke 6:27-31 NIV)

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12 NIV)

However, as we have consistently said in this blog, we can prove any point we want by just picking out certain verses in the Bible. If we read the entire Bible, we discover that Jesus was not always so meek and mild as Darrow would have us believe.

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” (Matthew 10:34-36 NIV)

Jesus constantly challenged the status quo. For example, he violated Jewish law by healing a person on the Sabbath which resulted in the Pharisees plotting to kill Jesus (Mark 3:2-6). And Jesus used violence when he used a whip to drive commercial enterprises out of the temple (John 2:13-16).

What the Bible tells us is that our use of violence to correct injustice should be extremely rare. Most of the time we should use peaceful means to change what is wrong in our world. And if the Darrows of the world consider that to be the action of a slave, I would ask them if Jesus acted like a slave.

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[1]   Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods, New York: Basic Books, 1997, p. 71.

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Integrity

Charles Koch in his book Good Profit lists the principles that have guided Koch Industries to its phenomenal growth. First on the list is integrity and he gives a very good reason for this emphasis: The transaction costs in business are greatly reduced if people have integrity. Think of all the money that could be saved if people had integrity. There would be no spending on security systems (alarms, locks, safes, weapons, guards), lawyers to write contracts, lawyers to sue those who default on contracts, internal and external auditors to verify a company does what it committed itself to do). [1]

Integrity is defined as: adherence to moral and ethical principles. This definition implies that we must do more than just believe in ethical principles, we must adhere to them; we must actually practice them. So why do we Christians maintain that all we need to do to be saved is to believe in Jesus and his death for our sins? To hold such a belief means that God is not concerned about our integrity; that it does not matter to God whether we put our beliefs into practice or not. Is that the God you read about in the Bible?

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[1]   Charles G. Koch, Good Profit, New York: Crown Business, 2015, p. 123.

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Altar Calls

Whenever I go to a Protestant church, the part of the service I like least is the altar call. It seems that at the end of every service it is a requirement to have an altar call. Why? Because standard Christian belief is that one must believe in Jesus and his death for our sins to be saved. Therefore, convincing people to believe and make a public statement of that belief is the top priority for a church.

But if, as this blog maintains, salvation is the renovation of our soul so it becomes like God then a change in people’s lives should be the church’s first priority, not altar calls. What would a church be like whose primary mission was to move people to become more God-like? An example is Rosaria Butterfield’s conversion to Christianity that we discussed in the last blog. Her conversion was not the result of attending a church; it was not because someone recited the Four Spiritual Laws to her. Her conversion was because someone lived Christian principles. After she wrote an opinion article, she received “the kindest letter of opposition I have ever read” from a pastor. The pastor and his family started a relationship with her, not with the idea of converting her. She said: “This was not friendship evangelism but friendship”. [1]

There is a place for altar calls in church just as there is a place for the rite of baptism. Both are a public expression of a commitment to follow the teaching of Jesus. When we place these rites above the task of becoming more like God, then there is something wrong with our belief system.

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[1]   Bill Sherman, “TU community gracious to ex-lesbian speaker”, Tulsa World, November 21, 2015, p. A11.

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Living Our Beliefs

This blog is often critical of Christians who think that belief is the only requirement for salvation. So it is refreshing to hear of a Christian who thinks that salvation involves actually putting our beliefs into practice. Such a person is Rosaria Butterfield.

Ms. Butterfield was a very successful college professor who was also a lesbian and Marxist. When she became a Christian, she realized it would mean giving up her lesbian lifestyle. So she changed and it cost her. She says the aftermath of her decision was a “bloodbath” as she felt that she had betrayed her friends and community [1] and I’m sure the feeling was mutual.

Ms. Butterfield understands that the purpose of salvation is to make of us a new creation and that means we must change. That has always been the problem we humans have with God. God wants to interfere with how we think we should live our lives, with the type of person we want to be. Human nature, being what it is, means we constantly try to think of ways to avoid having God meddle in our lives. And one way to accomplish that is to make salvation only a belief system.

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[1]   Bill Sherman, “TU community gracious to ex-lesbian speaker”, Tulsa World, November 21, 2015, p. A11.

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Good Profit

Charles Koch has taken a business his dad started and turned it into a $100 billion dollar company—one of the largest privately held companies in the world. It should be obvious this is a person who knows how to get things done. In discussing implementing the management system that has led to this phenomenal growth, Mr. Koch maintains the employees in a company must actually practice the system, not just talk about it. He states:

If you’ve never swung a golf club or driven a car before, theory and instruction will only get you so far. You need to pick up a club or get behind the wheel and keep practicing until you internalize the mechanics to the point where you can do it automatically. It needs to become second nature to you. [1]

He also quotes the scientist and philosopher Polanyi who “argued that we only truly know something—that is, have personal knowledge of it—when we can apply it to get results”. Koch summarized Polanyi’s argument by stating that knowing and doing are two different things. [2]

In this blog, we have taken examples from almost every area of our lives to show that it is commonly accepted that we must live something to truly learn it. Yet we Christians still hold to the idea that we only need to believe to be saved; that we only need a theoretical knowledge of what it means to be a follower of Christ to be saved. Why?

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[1]   Charles G. Koch, Good Profit, New York: Crown Business, 2015, p. 11.

[2] Koch, p. 76.

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Free Speech

In the US, the first amendment to the Constitution protects our freedom of speech. Throughout the years, various court rulings have defined precisely what is free speech and has led to the legal principle that even “inflammatory speech is protected as long as it is not incitement to imminent violence”. [1] Our founding fathers and many courts have recognized there is a difference between what one says and actually acting upon those statements.

So why do we Christians have such a difficult time recognizing that fact? We say that salvation is only through belief in Jesus and his death for our sins. Do we really think we will be saved just by saying we have a certain belief?

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[1]   Emily Belz, “Clamping down on speech”, World, February 21, 2015, pp. 50-52.

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