Church


Recently, at the church I am helping out at as an interim pastor, we had some guests come to our Sunday service.  They were a nice family.  They were actually family members of our choir/music directors.  The father was Hawaiian and the mother was Japanese.  Their three children ranged from age eight to thirteen (two young girls and an older brother).  Like many churches we dismiss for Children’s Church during the Sunday sermon.  So their three children left to join the class.

My wife taught the class with the help of another woman.  After church I asked how it went with the children.  To my wife’s surprise these children knew very little about Jesus, not to mention the Bible and characters like Noah and Moses.  At one point one of the children held up the Bible and said, “What’s this book?  It’s so big and doesn’t have any pictures.  I wouldn’t want to read that book.  It looks boring” (Of course I am paraphrasing and will get yelled at later for not quoting her correctlyJ).  As my wife and the other woman would answer the questions, the children showed continual signs of unfamiliarity with what we as Christians often take for granted.

Needless to say my wife was quite astounded.  Afterwards the choir directors explained to us that the children’s mother was into some Eastern religions and often dismissed Christianity to her children.  Therefore her children had a rather ignorant and stuffy attitude about Christianity.

We learned from that experience that we take far too much for granted as Christians and don’t often appreciate the vast amount of resources and understanding we have in regards to our faith.   Our children are three and four years old and they know who Noah is and the Biblical story encompassing him.  If you ask them if they know who Noah is they would look at you as if you asked them if they ever heard of candy.  They know much about the Faith because we have taught them and they have been surrounded by a faith community that has put forth the time and energy to inform them.

I am very concerned about this issue in our day.  It seems that many Christians are unaware of this problem and think that everyone else has been churched like they have and all went to Sunday school at some point and learned how Jesus fed the thousands with five loaves and two fish.  But the reality is…there is a growing segment of our culture who do not have a clue who Jesus Christ is—I know, I have met a few!

I have a book called The Art of Reading Scripture.  In it, one of the essays addresses pastors and teachers within the Church and how they address their audience.  The author explains that the days of assuming your audience knows what you are talking about are long gone.  NEVER ASSUME YOUR AUDIENCE’S KNOWLEDGE OR GRASP OF THE FAITH.  Assume the opposite…that they haven’t got a clue—because many of them haven’t.

This may be due to the fact that they haven’t had the convenience of being taught much about the Faith.  Or it may be that at the age of eight they learned to check out mentally during our sermons or lessons because we either used large theological words and concepts (that few people grasp) or because we preach/teach almost apologetically—because we are not fully convinced that what we have to say is of any merit or consequence.  Either way, we need to have a fresh approach and invest time and energy in passionately educating our flock in the things of God.

Much of the evangelical church has moved too far away from catechisms (probably because of anti-Catholic sentiments and an over-emphasis on only getting people converted so that they can die and go the sweet by and by) and it has been to our own detriment.  We need Christians who truly understand their faith so that they can effectively flesh it out in day to day life and share the good news with others.

Hosea 4:6 says, “My people perish from lack of knowledge.”  This is a major epidemic in our Church today and if it is not addressed now and continuously we may find that we have bred too many shallow Christians for the world of tomorrow.  Please, let’s get back to catechisms, discipleship classes, mentorships, Bible studies, and solid Christian education.  There are far too many alternative forms of Christianity through Christian-like movements that are confusing our people.  We cannot be mad at them for straying when we have done little as shepherds of God’s fold to attend and keep them.  Having a nice choir with exciting sermons is not enough.  We need to deeply root our family of Christ in what John Wesley called “a right-living faith.”  Bring back the creeds, confessions, memory verses, sword drills, conversations (allowing the tough and uncomfortable questions) and praise/worship songs (with scripture put to music—not just catchy melodies with meaningless words).

Never before has the Bible been so readily available; yet never before have so many people been so Biblically illiterate.  We can change that!

 

The older I get and the more time I reflect on things, the more I become a pacifist.  I see no need for violence and war, even though many argue with me that we have the right to defend ourselves or protect the innocent.

I am usually accused of being a coward or a traitor for not seeing the romanticism behind being a pawn of the state to be sent off to do the state’s bidding.   I am not fooled by the nationalism of a so-called Christian nation.  I have seen what it is like to be on the receiving end of capitalism and economic imperialism in a third-world country.

I think many Christians in America have fallen prey to the ambiguous axioms of “duty” and “allegiance” to the state.

Perhaps all this nationalistic romanticism would not be as appealing to Christians if they lived in another country.  It’s a different ball game when you live under a Stalin or a Gaddafi.  The romanticism of patriotism shows its flimsiness then.  I don’t buy the “just war” package.  It should be returned to sender, marked “Middle Ages!”

I believe that Christ’s life, death and resurrection changed everything.  He ushered in a new kingdom that I believe has the power to end the cycle of violence in the world and usher in Isaiah 2:1-5.  But it starts with the Church.  We have to turn the other cheek, leave the sword to the state, allow vengeance to be God’s, and not return evil for evil.  We are to give our lives to end the cycle of violence if need be…but not by storming the beaches of Normandy, dropping a bomb on Nagasaki, or sending an aircraft carrier through the Strait of Hormuz to see what kind of response we are going to get.

I find it awkward that I have actually lost close friends because I have these convictions and that I was grieved for days after the assassination of Osama bin Laden.  Not that I didn’t believe he should’ve been brought to justice, but because as a spokesperson for the Vatican stated, “Catholics rejoice at the death of no man.”  I grieve for the wasted life of a man created in the image of God and a continued cycle of violence.  Did America decrease the numbers of her enemies that day?  Some would laugh and say yes…one.  I believe we created dozens more.  And I pity the Christians locked into this mindset of cyclical violence that they subscribe to.

Christians ought to be the first people to see the reality of the kingdom present in the world, the true governance is God, that the real king who sits on his real throne is Christ.  Our allegiance is to him first and only.  If that makes us good citizens, that’s terrific.  If not, then we conform to Christ and not Uncle Sam.

Let us therefore be the first to “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”  Call me naïve, but Christians have no business being in a military, under the whims of the state, and being dehumanized by putting bullet holes into other humans, beating infants heads upon stones, or urinating on the corpses of people God loves.

Some say I am extreme, radical or too loving and peaceful and that I live in a fantasy world.  Well, I trust that standing before the Judge in roughly six decades (give or take a few) I will rather be accused of being too loving and peaceful than not enough.

I mentioned earlier that I am quite tired of the bad press the Church is always getting.  Of course there are issues that need to be addressed and changes that need to be made to have a more effective Church, not only in America but around the world.  Yet I wonder if one of the things that need to be addressed and changed is the constant complaining about ourselves.  For one thing the world does not think a whole lot about the Church these days, does it?  And I am not entirely sure they are going to want to have much to do with us when we are constantly publicizing how horrible we actually are as well.  The world says we stink (to put it very mildly) and then we respond, “Yup we do stink.”  Clever!

Like anything it is always easier to point out the negative instead of finding the positive.  So here is one reason why I love the Church…the people.  Now I will be the first to admit that church people aren’t perfect, in fact they are far from it.  But that is exactly what I love.  They are humans, just like me.  They are full of flaws, mistakes, mixed emotions and faulty reactions.  But they are people and I love them for it.  The problem is we expect too much of our brothers and sisters in Christ…we expect them to be perfect.  Really?  Are you perfect?  So we bicker sometimes and often about little stupid things.  Have you been married for more than a year?  Have you lived in the same house with a family member for more than a week?  Then you would know that it is often the people we love the most and that we are the closest to that we find it easiest and most comfortable to bicker with over stupid things.

We are a family!  We are brothers and sisters in Christ in the household of God as Paul says in Timothy.  If you want to find a church where everyone is perfect and always get’s along…then stop looking for a church because you will not find one like that.  Why?  Because even though we are Christians, we are still humans in the process of being sanctified.  It is a process that isn’t immediately completed the moment you say the sinner’s prayer.  In fact, it is a process that will last a lifetime.

So get used to that brother who always makes sure he is the first in line for food at the church banquet; the sister who bellows out every note and lyric of every hymn or praise song above everyone else; the guy who sits behind you every service sniffing in your right ear when all you want to do is turn around, hand him a kleenex and say “blow your frickin’ nose!”; the kid who double dips his communion bread in the cup of grape juice we use for communion leaving bread crumbs floating  for the next victim who is going to dip the body of our Lord in Christ’s blood–thanks kid!; the elderly lady who takes 3 minutes to dig for the loose change at the bottom of her purse while the patient usher holds the plate under her nose; the pastor who tells the same life stories each Sunday to illustrate non related points and the list goes on endlessly.

But these are the people we are commanded to love because they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Why are they goofy?  Because they are people.  They are broken.  They come with baggage and in constant need of healing and a warm friend to say, “Peace be with you…I love you.”  Your hug may be the only hug they get all week.  Your smile may be the only smile that warms their heart.  And we all need each other.  What annoys people about me?  I get quiet and short-tempered when I am tired or hungry and I can tend to be a private person on many things.  I love to talk about theology and scripture and can tend to share more than someone asks for and can thus come acrossed as a theological know it all.  I don’t mean to be that way but I have to be purposeful in not coming acrossed that way.

I love to sit around a table with my church family over good to not so good crock-pot meals and cheap church coffee and for a brief moment in our lives shut out the cares of the world and laugh together.  I love when I am feeling down or things aren’t going so well, to hear the old church lady say in her simple faith “Jeremy, it will all work out for those who love God…he is in control.”  And even if I don’t agree with their premise, I hear and receive the love and care those words carry from their hearts.  I know those old church ladies love me and will be proud of me even if I turned out to be the world’s biggest failure.

I love the hymns I have song a million times and the ability they have to bring tears to my eyes when I hear the small voice of my daughter sing them next to a 90-year-old woman who used to be my daughter’s age.  I love the lipstick marks on my sports coat or dress shirt from the elderly women who gave me hugs.  The smell of Old Spice on the old ushers.  I love the sense of the Holy Spirit’s presence in a charismatic contemporary church or in a reserved liturgical service.  I have found him just as strong in both but in different ways.  Why?  Because the human hearts in a 150 year old church hunger for him just as much as the human hearts in the youthful modern church.

I once attended a church that was very old.  I remarked to one of the lay leaders that the building was very beautiful.  It had a gorgeous chandelier, beautiful architecture, a balcony overlooking the sanctuary, a spectacular painting of Christ behind the platform, and the pews were rather ornate.  After the third time of mentioning to this man how beautiful and historical the building was he interrupted me and said, “It is the people inside that are beautiful.”  He was right.  Those people in that small congregation are beautiful.  They are all unique and they all have different and very special life stories.

I believe that if we would pause and listen to each other we would learn to love and appreciate each other.  I have heard all of the gimmicks of how to fix the Church today, how to start revival and how to make our churches grow.  I have read the countless books and heard the many lectures and sermons.  Yet I believe that what the world wants now more than anything, is a family that will love them unconditionally.  That’s the Church folks.  I find the love of Christ more and sense his presence greatest sitting around a table of brothers and sisters in Christ fellowshipping like a family than I do in loud technological churches with fine-tuned theologies and theatrics.  Each has its place but being a family must be at the center of it all.  Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all your heart, mind, and strength.  The second greatest commandment is like the first…love you neighbor as yourselves. What’s that mean?   Well the second is LIKE the first.  I think it is impossible to do the first without also being able to do the second.  At least, obeying the first will cause the second.  Loving God will cause us to love each other.

I love being a Christian and I love Christ’s Church.  Although there is always work and reform to be done in the Church there is so much that blesses me and that I am thankful for.  The Church has never been perfect and if we think the early church had it all together…think again.  The Church has always been filled with humans and humans have always been imperfect, opinionated, silly, childish, passionate and yet lovable.  If God can love us…than we can love us too!

Is anyone else tired of hearing the Church constantly slammed by critics within and without the body of Christ?  As I visit different blogs, read different books, and listen to many voices, all I hear is about how horrible the Church is and how we are doing everything wrong.  I think I have had just about enough of the negativity.  I know I am guilty of it too.  I also am aware that the Church has to always be checking itself and critiquing.  Yet lately it seems to be getting so depressing.  As someone who often writes about the Church, it is always easier writing to criticize than to find the good things.  It is simple to shoot off every flaw and failure.  This is why many marriages end in divorce, because spouses begin to highlight the shortcomings of their partner instead of looking for the good.

What I am saying is that I am committing to write some articles where I explore the good in the Church and give you and me a taste of something different for a change.  Frankly, I am beginning to find the criticisms quite nauseating and I wonder what the complainers are doing to make a difference.  I hear all the statistics about what failures Christians are but I wonder how involved those folks are in Church and how committed they are to a devotional relationship with Christ.  I will be the first to admit that I have had negative experiences in the Church (some churches more than others).  Yet I have had such blessed and overwhelming experiences as well.  I have felt the presence of Jesus Christ in the company of my Church family as we live life together. I have known a deep sense of joy and peace in receiving a faith and even healthy traditions that run as far back as Christ and the apostles.

I invite you to begin to look for those blessed things that are in the Church this Christmas Season to begin with.  I for one am blessed by little children performing a Christmas play where they reenact the Nativity.  That is a powerful experience for them that begins to embed within their little hearts the story of our Savior being born!!!  As you are able I invite you to share your own thoughts as we go.  Thank you and God Bless you all!

At the beginning of Thomas á Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ he speaks of the most important thing a Christian can do in their life time is to study Christ.  Yet it is not enough to merely study him but to imitate him in our everyday lives.  The very practice of doing or saying what  Jesus said or did is to experience a bit of life through the mind of Jesus Christ.  Think about it, when Jesus didn’t ignore those who were often invisible in his culture (like children) but embraced them.  Such an act changes a person from the inside out.  One learns to see the disenfranchised with compassion and love.  Or when Jesus said to turn the other cheek or walk the extra mile for an enemy.  This sort of sacrificial living teaches that life is not all about us and that even the hearts of our enemies can be softened.

We can also examine the lifestyle of Christ, how he spent significant amount of time away in prayer.  We all need this time of prayer and fellowship with God.  We can often fall into the trap of feeding our rational/intellectual side of being human and neglect the other basic need of being a social being as well.  We need that time to simply have relationship with God.  This is vital for becoming like Christ.  Paul encourages us in Romans to have the mind of Christ, to renew our minds.  A very big element of this is spending time, getting to know Jesus.  What does this do?  It helps us to truly think, act, and speak like Jesus.  I believe that this is the reason for so much nonsense in the world and even among so-called Christians who appeal to a gospel, that Paul says in Galatians 1, REALLY ISN”T A GOSPEL AT ALL.  Why?  Because they have perverted the faith of Christ, the apostles, the early Church fathers and mothers, and great men and women of God down through the ages for a lie.  How?  Because they do not truly know Christ or have not spent significant time in his presence getting to know him.  Instead they follow their passions, imaginations, feelings, emotions, lusts…to create something that though it sounds biblical because they use scripture, it is not biblical at all because they twist scripture.

In Jeremiah God speaks of false prophets crying out, “Peace, Peace” but the message and warning from God was that “there is no peace” but judgment.  Why is this important to recall?  Because we need to be in tune with God the Father and be aware of what is coming down the pike.  We need to be able to heed his warnings.  We need to be able to know the truth when we hear it and know what is false.  There is a lot of false teaching out there as we speak.  We live in a very pluralistic society where people are making up beliefs as they go along.  While studying philosophy in my undergrad, one thing that drove me nuts was that there was a philosopher for every crazy belief you could think of.  One day my professor said, “Philosophy is a dangerous thing, with the right charisma and eloquent rhetoric, a philosopher or orator could prove that a toothpick is God.”  Sounds ridiculous huh?  Well there are people that teach that god is in everything, in all matter and that that matter possesses the essence of God.  Therefore if God is in a tree and that toothpick came from the tree that housed God…the toothpick is God too.

So what is the safeguard to all of this.  Praying, and sticking to the faith you have received.  Pay attention to that check in your spirit that says, “You know…that sounds all nice and stuff but something isn’t right here, something is off.”  St. Irenaeus was a bishop in the ancient Roman province of Gaul in the second century AD.  He was very close to the time of the apostles and had received the faith that had been handed down to him by very trusted and faithful men.  In turn he taught the “barbarians” in Gaul, the simple folks who could not read or write.  Yet he says in Against Heresies if someone came and began to teach them a different Gospel than what the apostles had handed down to them they would recognize it immediately as a lie and would turn and run the other way.  It is a faith that many have suffered for, died for, and guarded, not only with their words but with their hearts, minds and lives.  We need to honor them by taking our faith as seriously as they did.

The moral of that story is that it is better for most Christians to not even listen to deception and to flee from it instead.  Now God has called many throughout the Church ages to practice what is known as “apologetics” or the defense of the faith.  Yet these individuals are usually deeply grounded in the teachings of Christianity and are very familiar with why we believe what we believe and most of the details behind our faith.  But the truth of the matter is that most Christians do not have the time, the resources, the interest or the calling to engage in this.  We are all part of the same body with different gifts, passions, and callings that are equally as vital and useful to our community as the next.  I have no ability in leading worship because I sing like a sick duck.  Yet I am thankful for those who are called into this ministry who can lead us into the presence of God through worship.

I say all this because it is necessary in our day to stay anchored in the faith and know what that faith is.  There are a lot of false gospels as Paul says in Galatians, but they are no gospels at all.  In fact, he says “If anyone teaches you another gospel than the one we have given, even if I or angels come doing so, let him be cursed.”  Pretty strong language that wouldn’t go over big in our day.  But his language emphasizes the urgency of his warning.  This is why Jesus was so sturn with those who departed from the true faith, same as the apostles, same as the early Church fathers and mothers.  Thomas Oden says in his three volume work Systematic Theology that “the vital question for Christians is not rather it is palatable but rather it is true.”  We are not interested in only the things we like about scripture but what is true…what is scripture and the teachings of Jesus and the apostles claiming is true.  That’s what we want to know.  That’s what we need.  That’s what God expects of us.

Life is busy!  Right?  I know I am not the only one experiencing this.  Fall always seems to be a busy time of year and just when I feel like I am starting to get a routine going and settling into the semester a bit…WHAAM!!! The Holidays Hit!  That’s right folks…Thanksgiving in the U.S. of A. is almost a week away.  Insane isn’t it?  Well that has nothing to do with my post but I thought I would just reach out for some support here:) Misery loves company.

Anyhow, what I really want to think about  is how the world sees us Christians.  I feel like I have this issue on my heart a lot.

The other night I was sitting on the couch and my wife had one of those “girly” flicks on.  You know, those movies that are oozing with sappiness.  They have more sap than a Maple tree in February.  But here’s my confession–the other night as I was sitting on the couch reading, my man-eyes found themselves watching the ooey gooeyness.  I found myself being entertained.  I know…AHHHH!

The movie was based on a novel where this young Christian couple move out west in the 1870’s to settle a ranch.  They hire some farm-hands to help them keep up with the work.  This couple is unlike most ranch owners in that they genuinely care about the farm-hands.  They invite them for dinner in their home, give them gifts, and even have them in their home for a Sunday morning gathering in which they read scripture and pray.

What caught my attention most was how one of the farm hands turns to another worker and says, “If what they believe makes them the way that they are, then I want to know what it is that they believe.”  I thought immediately, “Well that’s Jesus’ vision of true evangelism in a nut-shell.”  Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Sounds pretty close huh?

If the world could see the love of Christ in the Church in how we act towards and treat each other they will know that we are the disciples of Christ.  A few chapters later in John 17:23 Jesus states that if we are one in relationship the world will believe in the reality of Christ and God’s love.  Sounds a lot different than what Ghandi said about Christians, “I would be a Christian if it wasn’t for the Christians.”  You know, I don’t blame him.  I listen and watch what the Church is often up to today and I see so much division and self-righteousness that I know that it is the reason why the spirit of Ghandi lives in many unbelievers.

Want proof?  Turn on Christian radio and listen to the right-wing conservative Christains demonizing and bashing so called “liberal Christians.”  The term that usually get’s thrown around is “Pharisees” and “heretics.”  I hear a lot more “Rushian” (that’s my word for followers of Rush Limbaugh) and “Beckian” then Christian coming out of many of their mouths.  Their rhetoric is twenty-first century, capitalistic, republican jargon that often high-jacks verses of scripture to support their preconceived ideology.  They make Christ look like…well Rush Limbaugh.  If other Christians do not conform to this type of Christianity then they question the “other’s” committment to Christ and wonder if they are really saved.

In addition, I am in seminary and I hear plenty of moderate to liberal voices that dismiss the right.  They call them “fundalmentalist lunatics” who would burn everyone else at the stake if they got the chance.  They often view the right as uneducated and uninformed cavemen.  They feel that the right interprets the Bible way to literally and at times are offended if they actually accept scripture at face value.  Oh my gosh how horrible, wouldn’t want that!  Oh yeah…they call the people on the right “Pharisees” too.

Yet I can hear the voices of those Christians on the fringes of the Church bashing everything that is orthodox, doctrinal, dogma, creedal, patristic, traditional, ritualistic, theological, ecumenical etc. as nothing but traps put in place by mean authoritarian monsters who just want to control the nice and good-intentioned masses.  These people feel that they have been specially ordained by God to set the record straight and teach us all what Jesus REALLY meant that the Church has gotten completely wrong over the last two-thousand years.  Oh and by the way…they call the two groups above “Pharisees.”  Yet the two groups above call these people “heretics” and even “Pharisees” at times.

So will the real Pharisees please stand up???  I’m confused.  Yet I know that all of us usually fit into one of these categories and I probably just upset most everyone who read those descriptions.  I think I offended myself too actually:)

I wonder however, if there is a golden mean…that is, is there something in common we all have?  UHHMMM YEAHHH!  Probably 85 to 90% of what we believe if not more.  Yet we major in the minors and demonize each other.  We allow our differences to become divisive.  WHY ARE WE DOING THIS?  My guess: because we all think Jesus favors our point of view over everyone else’s and would be on our team in the arguments.  But I think we are getting it wrong.  I think scripture teaches that God is aware of the differences and that often times they are gifts and not reasons for division.  Scripture teaches unity and “one-ness” in the midst of differences.  Relationship in the face of disagreements.  Disagreements and differences are good.  The challenge is not letting them become divisive.

Paul in Galatians 5 says that in this new kingdom, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave or free.  He is not saying that ethnicity ceases or cultural heritage is obsolete.  He is not saying that women stop being women and men stop being men.  That is mere foolishness.  What he is saying is that those things are no longer reasons for division and that we all look upon each other as equals…”one in Christ.”  The love of Christ is all-embracing and requires us to “love one another.”  NO EXCEPTIONS.

I admit, I am guilty of my own prejudice against a certain group of believers that I find rude and abrasive.  It may be okay for me to address this concern with my brothers and sisters but it is not okay for me to get on the radio and attack them in front of the whole world.  It is not right to name drop and attack like vicious wolves.  Whatever happened to correcting your brother in secret and in love?  I think we think it makes us seem more right  when  we boldly and abrasively demean each other.  If this is how we continue to act I am sure the world is not going to witness the reality of Christ and God’s love among us.  We are being a disobedient Church.  Ghandi said, “You Christians don’t act like your Christ.” (paraphrase).  He is usually right.  Not because we can’t but because we choose to ignore his command.  Yet Christ says in John, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Loving Relationship in the midst of differences is what I am encouraging here.  As the world becomes more pluralistic and more violent toward Christianity we need to recoginize those precious things we have in common and embrace each other as family.  This is what our Christ commands.  We would do well to heed his words.  Let’s look past the differences and see Christ in us all.

Now don’t run off on me!:) I am aware that terms like “morality”, “virtues” and “ethics” seem quite dry and archaic.  But I think that some of my readers that would initially tune me out here will find this post very encouraging and invigorating.

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is a classical historical work by Edward Gibbon that was been a foundational authority on the Roman Empire for the past few centuries.  It is certainly not an easy read, but it is full of priceless information about the long period of time that the Empire existed.  This work is important to Christians because it is during the reign of this empire that Christ lived, died and rose again.  It was during this empire that the early church grew rapidly and thrived.  It was eventually this empire that would adopt Christianity as the state religion under Constatine.  And when this empire collapsed in the West, it was Christainity that remained as the leader of the West in its institutionalized form as well as in its pastoral role.

In one part of this great work, Gibbon addresses the phenomenon of how the Church grew so rapidly in the first several centuries.  Gibbon gives five solid reasons.  For the sake of this post we will examine one, and address the others in later posts.  The one I want to focus on in this post is that the Church grew rapidly because of “The pure and austere morals of the Church” or as he puts it later on “The virtues of the first Christians.”

Gibbon points out that the early Christians “demonstrated their faith by his virtues.”  That is to say, someone outside the Church could pick out a Christian based upon their virtues, moral and ethical behavior.  Imagine that.  In a contemporary society when pastors are divorcing their husbands or wives; ministers are having adulterous affairs or skimming off the top of ministries to buy a Rolls Royce or expensive clothing; Christians are suing Christians at the drop of a hat and so on.  Yet, these early Christians put strong emphasis on the transforming power of God to cause a change in their behavior that they committed to maintaining.

When they repented, they expected a “reformation of manners.”  Good ethical and moral behavior was expected of them.  We see this taking place even in Paul’s letters to the church of Corinth.  In the words of one of my professors, Paul was basically saying in those letters, “Stop acting like that…true Christians don’t behave that way!”  A life of vice was not acceptable.  So much so, that when the “most abandoned sinners” observed this lifestyle, many were attracted to the faith and the possibility that they too could be changed into the image of Christ.  They observed that the “driving passion” of these Christians was a “perfect life”, that is a virtuous lifestyle free from malice and vice.  In fact, they were so concerned with living holy lives, that if they were guilty of anything they were “guilty of an excess of virtue.”  Some of those early Christians would read scripture and take things very literally and at times perhaps legalistically.

The pagan world looked at that early Church and although they might not understand why there was a change in their ethical behavior, they were amazed by it and often drawn to it.  This is recognized by historians like Gibbons, who often states that he as a historian is not interested in establishing theological truths but understanding and stating history.  Yet it is also recognized by external evidence by secular officials of Rome like Pliny the Younger.  While emperor Trajan was in power, Pliny wrote to him asking how he should deal with the people known as Christians in the mid to late second century.  It is a priceless document because in it Pliny states that besides the fact that the Christians refuse to worship Caeser as a god, they are law abiding, loving, and good citizens.  He attests to their moral fortitude.  In fact, the early Christians thought it very important to be blameless citizens, unless the laws interfered with the laws of God.

Further on in the Roman Empire, Justin the Apostate came to power.  Under his reign he attempted to reestablish paganism as the state religion.  However, he admitted that he had an enormous struggle.  The struggle was that even though he had estabished a pretty efficient system of bishops and officials to oversee the practices of this pagan religion, the Christians’ moral and ethical behaviors, as well as their endless acts of charity far outweighed anything the pagans could do.

Gibbon and many other scholars point to this as one of the main reasons why Christianity grew so quickly in the Roman Empire and throughout the world.  There is no doubt in my mind that the Church today needs to return to this.  The Church needs a moral, ethical, love revival.  The Church needs to stop apologizing for its high moral standards found in scripture and tradition and begin to live it out.  Part of why we do and don’t do the things we do is because God expects us to be holy and different than the world.  There should be a contrast that is markedly different about us.  So that when it comes to issues like pre-marital sex, drunkeness, violence, gossiping, bickering, oppressing, ridiculing etc–the Church should be pure and blameless.

Many unbelievers argue that they can be moral and ethical too without Christianity.  I argue that they do not have the longevity, pure motives, and complete ability to do so.  I argue that all you have to do is walk into a mall and see just how well they live out those so called morals by the way they treat each other.  I also argue that the morals and ethics they have are not solely intrinsic but they are running on the fumes of morality taught to our culture by Judeo-Christian inheritance.  Lastly, I argue that any ability they have to give the appearance of morality is based upon what the patristic fathers saw as a mere imprint of the image of God that they were originally created in.  That is to say, that their morality is based upon an inward conviction that God has installed to warn them of what is wrong and right.

The problem today is that the world looks at the Church and doesn’t see much of a difference.  People are not dumb, they know when we talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.  I argue that Christians through the power of the Holy Spirit have the ability to live moral and ethically pleasing lives before the Lord.  However, most Christians don’t even try.  We join churches (which are basically social clubs for many) take on the title of Christians, carry our Bibles, act special on Sundays and then lead worldly lives the rest of the week.  This is not good enough.  Paul would say, “That is not how Christians behave.”

 

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