Pushing People Out of the Church – Part 1

I found a link to an article entitled, “8 Ways Christian Fundamentalists Make People Convert — to Agnosticism or Atheism,” on Facebook. Alternet.org is a left-wing, anti-religion, news-and-commentary website. While I disagree with the vast majority of their conclusions and find much of their content to be just plain irrational, I find some of the articles fascinating, because they help me to understand the thinking behind why many non-Christians reject the Truth.

Ultimately, those that reject the Gospel do so because they suppress the truth (Romans 1:18-19). Yet, there are also things that Christians do that reinforce people’s sinful natural desire to reject God. The article’s premise is that Christians push many people to leave Christianity because of what they say or do. As the author, skeptic Valerie Tarico, states, “If the Catholic bishops, their conservative Protestant allies, and other right-wing fundamentalists had the sole objective of decimating religious belief, they couldn’t be doing a better job of it.”

While I disagree with the premise that the stupidity of some Christian leaders is a rational reason for rejecting Christianity, I found that Tarico makes some valid points about behaviors and attitudes that are too frequently found in Christianity that indeed do push people away. In this series, I will be examining each of the 8 issues Tarico discusses to see what Christians can glean about our own attitudes and behaviors that should be changed.

Reason 1: Gay Baiting

Tarico writes:

Because of sheer demographics, many gay people are born into religious families. The condemnation (and self-condemnation) they face if their families see homosexuality as an abomination can be excruciating, as we all know from the suicide rate. Some emotionally battered gays spend their lives fighting or denying who they are, but many eventually find their way to open and affirming congregations or non-religious communities.

Ignorant and mean-spirited attitudes about homosexuality don’t drive just gays out of the church, they are a huge deconversion issue for straight friends and family members. When Christians indulge in slurs, devout moms and dads who also love their gay kids find themselves less comfortable in their church home. Young people, many of whom think of the gay rights issue as a no-brainer, put anti-gay churches in the “archaic” category. Since most people Gen X and younger recognize equal rights for gays as a matter of common humanity, gay baiting is a wedge issue that wedges young people right out of the church. That makes Fred Phelps a far better evangelist for atheism than for his own gay-hating Westborough Baptist Church.

There are a couple of fallacies with the argument. First, Tarico states that gay people are “born.” She implies that homosexuals have no choice but to be homosexuals. There is no scientific evidence that I am aware of that anyone is born gay. Rather, the evidence I’ve seen is that becoming homosexual is either a choice made later in life, and/or is environmentally influenced. Despite the intense search to identify a “gay gene,” none has been found. Many former homosexuals have completely changed and are happily married heterosexuals. Secondly, she equates Fred Phelps and Westborough Baptist Church with Christianity. It is a logical fallacy to assume that because Fred Phelps calls himself a Christian, all Christians are therefore hate mongers. If this is true, then all Democrats must also be hate mongers, because Phelps is a life-long Democrat, having run in various Kansas Democratic Party primaries five times, although never winning.

Despite the fallacies, Tarico makes several valid points. Most importantly, Christians should not hate homosexuals. Rather, we are to speak the truth in love. Jesus did not come to condemn sinners, but to save them (John 3:17). When a Christian hates gays, it is a symptom of the sins of pride and arrogance in their lives. Some Christians believe God hates homosexuals. God doesn’t hate anyone; He hates sin, but loves people. He sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross to save sinners, including homosexuals. The idea that God hates some people, but loves others, is theology without Biblical basis, and is straight from Hell.

Christians should not agree with homosexually as acceptable behavior, but neither should they think that being gay makes a person worse than other sinners. True, the Bible calls homosexuality an abomination (Leviticus 20:13), it also uses the same word (תּוֹעֵבָה “toebah”) to describe other sexual sins; idolatry (Deuteronomy 27:15); pride, lying, murder, planning evil, and sowing discord (Proverbs 6:17-19); and using false weights (Proverbs 11:1). In other words, the Bible uses the same word to describe homosexuality that it uses to describe a liar or one who sows discord – a person who causes disagreements. In reality, all sin is an abomination to God; that’s why we all need a Savior, to remove the curse of our abominable sin and restore our relationship with a holy God.

Tarico is also correct that many homosexuals feel excruciating condemnation from others and often from themselves for their homosexuality – the suicide rate is much higher for homosexuals than for others. I would also add that many feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Our goal as Christians should not be to add to the condemnation, but to help gays come to a relationship with Jesus Christ. There is no Biblical basis for the belief that gays cannot be saved until they quit being gay; in fact, they cannot change without the power of the Holy Spirit, and they cannot receive the Holy Spirit until they are saved. True, the Bible calls for repentance; but, repentance doesn’t mean to stop sinning – it means “to change one’s mind.” Our goal is to share the truth “with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15), and to allow the Holy Spirit to work to bring about salvation. Once the homosexual comes to the knowledge of Jesus Christ and is saved, our goal is to help the new believer to grow in their faith and relationship with Jesus. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict people of sin, not ours. As the new believer grows in their faith and relationship with God, at some point, the Holy Spirit will convict them of the sin of homosexuality. At that point, our job is to lovingly help the person trust in the Holy Spirit’s power to overcome the sin.

Christians must learn to treat homosexuality the same as they would treat any sin. Sin is to be expected of the non-Christian. Once a person is saved, overcoming sin is a life-long process. Homosexuality is a deep addiction that can be a long, painful process to overcome. While the church cannot ignore continued, deliberate sin, it also cannot condemn non-Christians and new believers because they have not yet matured spiritually. Rather, our place is to minister to them, come alongside them, and help them to become mature in Christ. When this happens, the sin of homosexuality will eventually be dealt with by the Holy Spirit, and those of us in the church can help the person overcome their homosexual addiction.

Listening to what non-Christians and skeptics have to say about Christians can give us insight as to where we need to change in order to better reach them with the Gospel. Many non-Christians perceive Christians as hating homosexuals. In order to overcome this perception, we need to allow the love of Christ to flow through us. While we cannot accept the homosexuality, we must accept the sinner. God’s love demands it of us.

Romans 5:8
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Seven Obstacles to Sharing Your Faith, Part 7

I ran across an article a while back on christianitytoday.com by Chris Lutes entitled Seven Reasons Not to Share Christ (and why we should go ahead and do it anyway). I thought it would make a good a good blog series.

The seventh reason listed by Lutes:

7) “I don’t even know where to start”
Why not start by inviting a non-Christian friend to your youth group? Maybe your group has special events that are fun outreach nights with no heavy Bible studies. At least invite a non-Christian to take in a movie with you and your Christian friends. Then what? Well, when the subject of faith comes up, start with the story of how you became a Christ-follower. Or talk about why you’re a Christian and how God helps you live life. Just be honest, just be real, just be you—and you might be surprised at how much God can use to reach out to others.

My friend Carl Kerby often quotes Mark Cahill, who says, “Evangelism is a conversation, not a presentation.”

Sharing your faith isn’t about giving a speech, or saying all the right things in exactly the right way. It simply involves telling others about what God has done in your life. Maybe you’ve had a hard time turning conversations to spiritual matters. You’re probably overthinking. Just start talking about what’s important to you – maybe your family, your church, or your Christian friends. If Jesus is what’s truly important in your life, then the topic is sure to come up. And, Chris Lutes is right – invite your non-Christian friend to hang out with you and some of your Christian friends. Whether it’s going to a movie, getting a cup of coffee, having a cookout, or playing ball, as you get to know the person better, the topic of your faith is bound to come up. When it does, don’t get hung up on sharing the “Romans Road” or “Four Spiritual Laws.” Start out by simply telling what God has done in your life, or why your faith is important to you. Let God work out the details. Too often, we get hung up because we forget that it’s the Holy Spirit that leads a person to Christ, not us. Just start talking, and let God do the rest.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to prepare yourself by studying the relevant Scriptures, or reading a book on personal evangelism. We’re told in 1 Peter 3:15 to “…always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you…” However, don’t get so hung up on the technique that you don’t say anything. God is more interested in you allowing Him to use you than He is about you knowing all the right things to say.

Where do you start? Start by praying and being open to God’s leading. Then, just get to know people, and God will provide you with the opportunities.

Is the Message of the Cross Foolishness?

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”

20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

As I have talked with many atheists and skeptics over the years, the one attitude that comes up over and over is the belief that Christianity is foolish. They argue, God cannot be proved; the Bible is a collection of myths; and dead people don’t come back to life. Anybody who actually believes this stuff must be a simpleminded fool.

My typical response is to point out that the only reason these things seem foolish to them is because of their presuppositions. Most atheists begin with the presupposition that nothing supernatural exists; therefore, any argument for the existence of God must be false. The logic here is totally circular, yet, when I point this out, they can’t seem to understand. Because most atheists presuppose some version of naturalism, they believe that the scientific method is the only way we can know anything for certain. However, the very belief that all knowledge must come through observation of the natural world is self-refuting – one cannot observe that this belief is true. The very foundation of almost all of their arguments is based on a logical fallacy! But when I point out the fallacies in their thinking, they just don’t understand. It is incomprehensible to them that their entire worldview is based on an absurdity.

Most of the atheists, agnostics, humanists, and skeptics I’ve interacted with are quite intelligent. I have often been frustrated by the fact that such obviously intelligent people can’t seem to understand the incongruity of their unbelief. To believe that the entire universe popped into existence all by itself, in all its vastness and complexity, without any supernatural intelligence guiding the process, is absurd. Yet, when I clearly show them why their thinking is preposterous, they just can’t seem to understand. How can intelligent people not understand simple logic, clearly explained?

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who choose to reject God. But, in reality, it is those who reject the Gospel who are fools.

1 The fool has said in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt,
They have done abominable works,
There is none who does good.
Psalm 14:1

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
Proverbs 9:10

Paul talks about the cross of Christ being a stumbling block to the Jews, and foolishness to the Greeks. In Paul’s day, the Jews knew a lot about God and the Bible, but most didn’t actually know God. To them, the cross was a “stumbling block.” Today, there are many “religious” people for whom the cross is also a stumbling block. The cross gets in the way of religiosity. The cross means we cannot make ourselves acceptable before a holy God. Only through the blood of Jesus can we be accepted by God.

The Greeks of Paul’s day were nominally polytheistic, but actually lived as atheists or agnostics. Much like today’s humanists, they believed human understanding was the ultimate authority, and they saw the cross of Christ as foolishness.

I finally realize that the reason most skeptics can’t understand the Gospel is not an issue of intelligence – it’s a matter of the will. They don’t understand because they don’t want to understand. 2 Peter 3:5 says that they are “willingly ignorant” – they choose to ignore the truth. Looking back, I was the same way before I received Christ. None of us seeks after God on our own (Romans 3:11); it is only because God seeks after us that any of can respond to the Gospel. The Bible clearly teaches that God seeks everyone in the world (John 3:16), but only those who choose to believe will be saved. And, it’s only after we have received Christ that God opens our minds so that we can really understand.

The cross of Christ seems foolish to those who choose to reject it. But, to those who choose to receive Christ when the Holy Spirit draws them to Himself, the cross is the power of God. The cross has the power to overcome our sin. The cross has the power to restore the relationship between us and God. And, the cross has the power to transform our lives. Real foolishness is to reject the cross.

Seven Obstacles to Sharing Your Faith, Part 5

I ran across an article last month on christianitytoday.com by Chris Lutes entitled Seven Reasons Not to Share Christ (and why we should go ahead and do it anyway). I thought it would make a good a good blog series.

Lutes writes for his fifth reason:

5) “I’m not a very good Christian”

You’re a believer, but you mess up. You don’t pray or read your Bible as much as you should. And you sin. Every day. So why should you tell other people about Christ if you can’t even get it right? Fortunately, being a believer isn’t about getting it right. It’s about God’s love and God’s forgiveness. It’s about his saving grace. (See Ephesians 2:8-9, John 3:16 and Colossians 2:13.) So, does this mean you can act however you want? No. God wants us to become more like him each and every day. But he can also use us even when we mess up or aren’t as good as we should be. You don’t have to be “perfect” to share Christ. Not at all. Instead, make it clear to your friends: “You know, I’m sure not perfect. That’s why I need God’s love and forgiveness.” Chances are, your friends will appreciate your honesty. They might also be kind of amazed to discover you believe in a loving and forgiving God. And isn’t that what the Good News is all about?

Being a Christian isn’t about being good. It’s about being forgiven. If being a Christian depended on us being good, then there would be no Christians. The apostle Paul quotes several Old Testament passages in Romans 3:10-12, where he writes,

10 As it is written:
“There is none righteous, no, not one;
11 There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
12 They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.”

Since there is no person who does good, then not being a “good” Christian puts you in exactly the same position as every other Christian. None of us is “good,” despite the fact that most of us want to be. Paul also struggled with the dilemma of Christian “goodness.” In Romans 7:14-25, he writes,

14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.

21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.

Paul struggled with sin. He struggled to do what was right, and he struggled not to do what was wrong. All of us who are followers of Jesus Christ struggle with doing what we know is right. If a person does not have this internal dissonance between what they know God wants them to do and what they actually do, I would contend that they aren’t true Christians. All people fall short of God’s perfect standard; true Christians have the Holy Spirit residing in them, convicting them of sin and guiding them toward repentance. If a person does not experience the Holy Spirit’s conviction for sin, then they have not yet been saved. The fact that a Christian knows they fall short is evidence that they are truly saved and allowing God to guide and direct them.

Here’s the bottom line: Being a Christian isn’t about being good; it’s about being forgiven, and being transformed. Being forgiven happens the moment a person receives Jesus Christ; being transformed is a life-long process. The fact that I’m not a “good” Christian is the very point of the Gospel. Religion says I must be good to approach God; Christianity says that I cannot be good, but that God wants to be reconciled to me through the blood of Jesus Christ, despite my lack of goodness. And, it’s the Holy Spirit that allows the transformational process in my life, not anything I can do on my own.

Being Salt

Matthew 5:13 (NKJV)

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.

This weekend, I had the blessing of helping out with an event dubbed the DiscipleNow Weekend.  The speaker, Brian Burgess, gave two tremendous messages.  I learned something new, and have done some additional study to understand the principles Brian laid out.  This blog is the result of this study.

What is salt?  Sodium chloride, also known as salt, has the chemical formula NaCl.  Sodium chloride is the primary salt found in the oceans; it is commonly used as a condiment and food preservative.

Salt is necessary for most animals to survive.  In ancient times, and to a certain extent today, salt was a highly sought after commodity, and common bartering item; it was sometimes even used as currency.  Humans must take in a certain amount of salt, or else they will die.

In his commentary on Matthew 5:13, Albert Barnes says,

Salt renders food pleasant and palatable, and preserves from putrefaction. So Christians, by their lives and instructions, are to keep the world from entire moral corruption. By bringing down the blessing of God in answer to their prayers, and by their influence and example, they save the world from universal vice and crime.

Matthew 5 is part of a sermon by Jesus Christ known as the Sermon on the Mount.  What Jesus is saying by calling His followers the “salt of the earth” is that we are a very necessary part of God’s plan for planet Earth.  Salt is absolutely necessary for life; it is also a preservative.  The Holy Spirit resides in the Christian, and uses them to preserve His influence on the planet.  True, God could accomplish this goal through other means; but He instead chose to work through His people to achieve His goals.  Isn’t it exciting to be a Christian!  God uses us to complete His purposes!  When I have doubts as to why God placed me on this earth, I simply need to remember this principle:  God put me here so He can use me to glorify Himself.  It’s not about me; it’s all about Jesus Christ.

The phrase, “but if the salt loses its flavor,” has been problematic for some.  Salt, or sodium chloride, cannot lose its flavor.  The chemical properties of sodium chloride, including its “salty” taste, never change.  So, what did Jesus mean by this?

In the ancient area around Israel, and even today, much of the salt supply came from the Dead Sea.  Dead Sea salt, however, is not pure; it contains other chemicals, including gypsum.  Gypsum is a powdery chemical that somewhat resembles salt in its powdered form.  It was often mixed in with Dead Sea salt, which reduced the “saltiness” of the product.  Gypsum was a sort of counterfeit salt; its outward appearance looked like salt, but it had none of the flavor or life-sustaining properties of salt.

The Greek word μωρανθῇ (mōranthē), translated here as “loses its flavor,” literally means to be foolish.  The English word “moron” comes from the same Greek root word.  Jesus was well aware of the fact that salt cannot become unsalty.  Jesus is using a subtle play on words here.  Just as salt cannot lose its flavor, a true Christian cannot lose their importance in God’s plan.  For salt to lose its saltiness, it must be counterfeit salt; if a Christian were to lose the life-sustaining influence of the Holy Spirit working through their lives, they must be counterfeit Christians.  Sometimes, true Christians doubt their value and importance in God’s plan; but, such thinking is foolishness.  Subtly, Jesus is saying that a Christian would have to be a moron to not believe he or she is an integral part of God’s plan for His creation!  This doesn’t mean that Jesus is being unkind or name-calling; it does mean that He is pointing out that when we doubt our value and worth in the Holy Spirit accomplishing God’s purposes through us, we are being foolish.

God’s plan for His people on earth is to use them to reach others with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  If you have already become a Christian, then you are an integral part of His plan.  However, if you are one of those people who goes to church, reads their Bible, prays, and does other “religious” stuff, but have never actually placed your faith and trust in Jesus Christ, you are like gypsum – you are a counterfeit Christian.  Jesus said that people like this are “good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.”  Going to church and doing religious stuff doesn’t make you a Christian, any more than going into a garage and making car noises makes you a car.  Being a Christian has nothing to do with anything we do, how we act, or what we say; it is all about what Jesus Christ did on our behalf on the cross, and whether we have accepted His gift and applied it to our lives.

The true Christian is like salt.  A Christian’s value and worth are due to the very nature of our relationship with God through the blood of Jesus Christ.  Just as salt cannot make itself salty, nor lose its saltiness, a Christian cannot gain value and worth on his or her own, nor lose it.  Our value and worth come from God’s work in us.  The false Christian is like gypsum.  He or she does not have the “saltiness” that can only come through a relationship with Jesus Christ, and will not be a part of God’s plan for eternity.  The question is, are you a true Christian?  Have you placed your faith and trust in Jesus Christ?  Do you have a relationship with Him?  Or, are you foolishly being a moron, and trying to reach Heaven on your own terms?

Life’s “Escape Button”

EscOn computer keyboards, the Esc (or Escape) key is traditionally used to initiate an escape sequence.

Many people have wished that life had an “escape button” that we could push to temporarily get away from the difficulties we all face.  A way to escape from the pressures, temptations, responsibilities, and suffering.

Although we can’t just push a button to escape from the world for a while, for the Christian, there is escape through our relationship with God.

King David wrote in Psalm 71:

1 In You, O Lord, I put my trust;
Let me never be put to shame.
Deliver me in Your righteousness, and cause me to escape;
Incline Your ear to me, and save me.
Be my strong refuge,
To which I may resort continually;
You have given the commandment to save me,
For You are my rock and my fortress.

David tells us that our escape comes only by trusting the Lord.  It is not in our own power that we can escape from the pressures and problems in this life.  We are fallen sinners trapped in a cursed, fallen world.  It is only in the power of the holy, omnipotent God that escape is possible, and it is only by placing our faith and trust in Him that we can take refuge.

The apostle Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 10:

12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

When we try to stand on our own against temptation and sin, we are guaranteed to fall.  Because we are all sinners, we do not have the capacity to stand against temptation.  No matter how hard we try, our best works are certain to fall short.  It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that anyone can escape temptation and overcome sin.  What we cannot do, God does, when we place our faith and trust in God through Jesus Christ.  God does not promise that the problems will go away, but rather, that we can overcome them through Him.