THE CHURCH IN THE AGE OF RELATIVISM

Next door to my daughter’s apartment is a prominent downtown church; a rather large one.  She invited me to go with her to explore the possibility of her making it her church home.  There was no one to greet us, only a sign notifying attendees to help themselves to the daily program.

After being seated, I opened the program.  The “service” was “Honoring Great American Feminists; Bella Abzug, Hillary Clinton, Angela Davis, Betty Friedan, Oprah Winfrey,  Gloria Steinem, and a few names I didn’t recognize.  The music consisted of the organ playing; no congregational singing.  The Pastor/Speaker reminded us of a few community activities and then directed those gathered to refer to the program.  His “sermon” started out by reminding us of the “The Day of the Woman.”  So far, we heard nothing about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Nicene Creed, Abraham, Samson & Delilah, or the Virgin Mary, nor was a Scriptural basis used, not even Proverbs 31:10-31.

We had enough so we left …; and a few others did the same.  If I’m not mistaken, we thought we would hear something about Jesus.  Sorry Charlie!

Relativism is the philosophy that truth is only that which stands side by side to each individual’s beliefs and experiences, or more authoritatively, it is “any theory holding that criteria of judgment as relative, varying with individuals and their environments.” [Webster Dictionary]. In English it means: truth is not absolute!  In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Hamlet and Rosencrantz are talking: “Since nothing is really good or bad in itself – it’s all what a person thinks about it.”  So there is no truth, it is only what you think about it through your experiences of life.  

Therefore, basic and fundamental truth does not exist according to relativism.  Everything is nuanced.  To be up to date and appeal to the younger crowd, the millennials, the hip Preacher/Speecher, is required to make the Bible “a living, breathing” document, relevant to todays way of thinking.  Forget theology.  Forget thee’s and thou’s.  OK?  Some will say, “Its better to get them through the doors of the church than to force them to stay at the nightclub!”

Activities, music and customs have always changed with the times.  No problem so far.  But wait a minute-wait a minute.  It has only been in the last 50 to 60 years that the Christian beliefs taught in the Nicene Creed have been deleted from our pulpits.  Consequently, most of the younger crowd today know nothing about the Trinity, or heaven or hell or sin.  They may know a little about the niceties of accepting Jesus as their personal Savior, but please don’t make them cry over Calvary or the blood.  If you preach too strongly about repentance and confession of sins, we’ll just go to another church.  We want to hear things that lift us up and make us feel good – “Lord knows how we need to hear some good stuff with all the bad things we see on TV news and besides, isn’t there only one God anyway?   We can be like Ancient Greece with many gods.  Since Christian theology and the Christian belief system has been thrown out the window, we can say that the golden calf, Allah, Thor, Jesus and whoever can be a god to us.  

Trinity?  “Forget it.  I can/t explain it anyway.”

Heaven?  “Do you mean aliens in spaceships?  UFOs?”

Repentance?  “Well, I’m sorry for a lot of things.”

Praying?  “Omg yes. I pray all the time.”

Living a holy life?  “You gotta be kidding.  I’m no monk.  And nobody’s perfect.”

“You’re going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food—catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. They’ll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages. But you —keep your eye on what you’re doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God’s servant.”

2 Timothy 4:3-5 (msg)

What is the true church?  Is the church of which Jesus is the founder an organization, an ornate, architectural building or arena or auditorium filled with happy-happy people listening to the latest rock music and a Speecher who stands on stage with one hand in the pocket of his torn jeans wearing sneakers while he make everyone laugh?   Is it a place where you can live like the devil all week long and come to “The Place” or “The Center” on Sunday, get out early for lunch and head for the beach?  Is a great church one that attracts the most people?   What about the music?  Does it truly bring out praises to God or does it simply tickle your fancy? 

God’s holy place of worship is, according to the Word of God, a gathering of those who “testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all.”

Acts of the Apostles 4:33 (nlt)

In the early church, the power of the Holy Spirit was upon them all; not trying to be relevant; not trying to make the Word a living, breathing document; no trying to be a late night comedian.  It was so holy that when a man and his wife lied about giving, God struck them dead!  I fear that too many churches today are too busy counting nickels and noses to be filled with the Holy Spirit; to testify powerfully and be a great blessing!

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Wake Up, America!

LITTLE BY LITTLE AND INCH BY INCH OUR CONVERSATION has changed. Someone feels abused and goes ballistic. Another thinks that their dog is not being given proper respect and sues the “offender” for abuse. An old man is driving too slow and it sets off a chain reaction of anger. A coach pulls a player off the soccer field and the parent runs on the field yelling. Students start a petition to remove a 200 year old statue on their campus because it causes them trauma. A professor brings legal action against a student for texting a critique of his class. And on and on. Now the NAACP of California claims that the Star Spangled Banner is racist.

Connor Friedersdorf wrote the following in The Atlantic in the April 19, 2016 edition:
“How did American culture arrive at these moments? A new research paper by Nick Haslam, a professor of psychology at the University of Melbourne, Australia, offers as useful a framework for understanding what’s going on as any I’ve seen. In “Concept Creep: Psychology’s Expanding Concepts of Harm and Pathology,” Haslam argues that concepts like abuse, bullying, trauma, mental disorder, addiction, and prejudice, “now encompass a much broader range of phenomena than before, ”expanded meanings that reflect “an ever-increasing sensitivity to harm.”

WAKE UP, AMERICA!

Our foundations are cracking and most of us are skipping down the road clueless.  Destructive political ideologies are capitalizing on our lack of historical perspective.  Recently, a juror asked the judge in the Senator Menendez trial, “What is a senator?” The man on the street doesn’t even know what the Bill of Rights is – he knows what he thinks are his rights, but not what your’s are.
It seems that in the Christian faith, we have been subjected to a belief creep. Foundational theology is “old stuff” to the majority and is pooh-poohed by the young. Rock music, flashing lights, churchy entertainment – “that’s where it’s at, man!” He says this as he stands there in his shorts. “I’m meeting the pastor at the beach, hurry.”  Theology is passe’ and archaic. “If I had to listen to theology on Sunday, I wouldn’t go.”  OK, how bout a little sermon stuff with a Christian twist?
Is what you believe important? “Hey Man, don’t you realize? Sugar is in. Spinach is out.”

“THIS IS WHAT THE LORD SAYS: ‘Stand where the roads cross and look.  Ask where the old way is, where the good way is, and walk on it. If you do, you will find rest for yourselves.’”
Jeremiah 6:16 (ncv)

Really?

WASN’T IT SHAKESPEARE WHO WROTE, “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so?” This has been debated by academics, moralists and theologians for centuries.  Are we supposed to apply this to our ethics, behavior, religion, relationships?

• Should we think of unintended consequences?

• What about the greatest good to the greatest number of people?

If so, we would be forced to say that as long as we have acceptance by great numbers of people then regardless of our behavior, it makes it right! There would indeed be no right or wrong, good or bad – it would entirely depend on how many people accepted your theory, philosophy, ideology or theology.

• I grew up in a parsonage/manse; Daddy was the pastor of a church.  Much to my dismay, it was said to me, “Marshall Hall, what will other people think?!”  So to a great extent, good and bad was determined by prevailing thought within the group. Yes, I was taught right from wrong, but to a large extent whatever the Discipline, Manual or Sister Whatshername said took priority.

• Power or the exercise of power does not make an action right.

• Among my many business failures (I was a stockbroker for 30 years, but had businesses on the side), an employee quit and started his own business in competition with my business. No problem… except he stole some of my inventory to do so. His excuse? “Well that’s just business.” Really? Ethics?

• Ask yourself, is your sense of right and wrong dependent on being competitive?

• At first blush we may think that everything would be great if everybody performed exactly like we demanded.  Oh, I see! (?)

• There was a time recorded in the Old Testament when each man “did what was right in his own eyes” rather than by God’s directive. It ended in disaster and the Israelites were defeated; slaughtered, conquered!

IN THE REAL WORLD of human behavior people will always act like people. Therefore, it seems to me that the best answer to behavior, purity and personal joy is to have a standard measure. The standard should be the WORD OF GOD, The HOLY BIBLE.

When Jesus Comes

THERE WAS A TIME WHEN I WAS SUFFERING UNEXPLAINABLE PAIN AND DESOLATION. No one to turn to. No one seemed to care. Alone. Isolated. Catatonic. Annihilated. Eliminated from my safe place – the church.

Thoughts came to me:
• I thought God was supposed to help me!
• Why am I fearful?
• Did I deserve this?
• I was a pastor – I’m not supposed to hurt.
• It was as though I was locked away.

I looked in the mirror and my eyes were swollen from weeping. Many times I had quoted the words of Jesus quoted by Paul in II Corinthians 12:9:
“‘My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

When you are totally bereft of self esteem, hurt beyond the point when words could come out of your throat, gasping for air, thinking that you would be better off dead, God speaks!

🎼🎶 “One sat alone beside the highway begging,
His eyes were blind, the light he could not see.
He clutched his rags and shivered in the shadows
Then Jesus came and bade his darkness flee.

“When Jesus comes, the tempter’s power is broken;
When Jesus comes, the tears are wiped away,
He takes the gloom and fills the life with glory,
For all is changed when Jesus comes to stay.”
(Oswald J. Smith)