This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Secularization of American Evangelicalism - The New Mission Field For Us

Recently, I read a very interesting editorial by Archbishop Mark Haverland, the Metropolitan of the Anglican Catholic Church, entitled "Our Baptist Friends And Their Difficulties."  The article was published in the ACC newspaper, The Trinitarian, in the September/October 2011 edition, and it was very insightful.   Barb and I attend an Anglican Catholic parish ourselves, and I have had the privelege of meeting Archbishop Haverland - he is a very astute scholar and he has a good finger on the pulse of the American religious spectrum.  Therefore, what he has to say is actually quite insightful, and honestly he nails the issue well as far as this article is concerned too.  Reading the Archbishop's thoughts got my own wheels turning, and I wanted to expound on what he said by writing this article myself, and adding a couple of other things to what he talked about as I feel they add another dimension to his article also.

Archbishop Haverland''s article focuses primarily on some trends in the Southern Baptist Convention, which by and large with 16 million adherents is the largest Evangelical Protestant denomination in the US.  In reading the article, I see the Archbishop making two very important (and I must say correct) assessments that many of our Evangelical friends would do well to take notice of.  First, he mentions that the "Mainline" churches often turn "Sideline," based on terminology from Richard John Neuhaus, and inevitably some societal tendencies could "sideline" the "mainline."   Going further, Archbishop Haverland observes that the "Mainline" of yesteryear - groups like the United Methodists and the ECUSA, among others - has become the "Sideline" while larger, more conservative groups - the Southern Baptists, Lutheran Church/Missouri Synod, Presbyterian Church in America, Assemblies of God, and Nazarenes, among others - have by their increased numbers become more "Mainline."  Yet, as the Archbishop also alludes to, the conservative Evangelical "Mainline" of the present is in danger as well, and he notes it is due to what he calls "profound individualism" on the part of many Evangelicals in regard to soteriology and spirituality - the danger he notes, citing specifically the great increase in divorce rates, is a changing in attitudes regarding key moral issues based on societal peer pressure, to use my own translation of what he said.   Toward the conclusion of his article, the Archbishop says Baptists have a choice - they can either slowly secularize as many of yesterday's "Mainliners" have and decline, or they can begin to commit to a creed and tradition that would anchor their convictions better - he notes the rise in a movement called Reformed Baptists (one of my good college friends is active in this group) among former Southern Baptists due to the fact the Reformeds offer a more solid grounding in tradition and stability that some Southern Baptists feel are lacking.  Indeed, the Reformed Baptists are a growing phenomenon too, and although a little too Calvinistic for my taste, they nonetheless have retained some things that many Southern Baptists once had and lost that are beneficial to maintaining a strong Biblically-sound faith.   Therefore, I concur with the Archbishop that this may be something good. 

However, there is something even better that really caught my attention as the Archbishop concluded his article.  In his closing words, he wrote this statement - "The Anglican Catholic Church and its clergy need to look for growth not only to the former Episcopalians - a small and shrinking group - but also to the millions upon millions of conservative Protestants."  All I have to say to that is this - AMEN!!!   More so than ever, America is a ripe mission field for the harvest, but unlike the missionary endeavors of the past, this is a little different - we need to start casting out lifelines to dedicated people, who are Christians, that are finding themselves dispossessed by a lot of paradigm shifting in the American religious landscape.   Many of us -myself included! - have been there; we love the spiritual upbringing of our youth, but we also have been disturbed by the fact that many of the churches that once nurtured it are now eschewing and ridiculing those foundations.  I was raised in a Pentecostal environment, born again myself in a Southern Baptist church, graduated from a Pentecostal Bible school here in Florida, and for many years was an active minister in the Foursquare Church (a large Pentecostal denomination).   Yet, I grew very disenfranchised with what I was seeing as a departure from the old-time faith of these churches in many congregations, and it seemed as if their leadership was more hung up on running their denominations like Fortune 500 companies rather than spiritual centers that they should be - therefore, it seems as if the trend was in many of these Evangelical, supposedly conservative, churches was more toward entertainment and relevancy versus discipleship and spiritual growth.  With the rise of such things as the megachurch, Rick Warren's "Purpose-Driven" ideology, the whole "seeker" movement, and the Emerging Church cult, many distinctives of Evangelicalism became deconstructed, redefined, and even "de-christianized" to the point some of these formerlly Evangelical "churches" are hardly recognizeable as Christian anymore!  It seems like these "churches" were more interested in rock bands, shopping malls in the sanctuaries, and other nonessentials than they were in their mandated mission laid down two millenia before by Christ Himself, and therefore a number of people in these churches found themselves dispossessed and basically "spiritual orphans."   Archbishop Haverland said early in his article "I have argued that American Fundamentalists are merely the slow lane to secularization," and to be honest, he is tragically correct - churches, via Rick Warren and other innovators, are becoming more secularized every day because they are ashamed to be identified as "Christian."  In many of these groups that have adopted this mentality - and it is spreading like a cancer unfortunately - it has become a cardinal offense to mention words in a sermon or anywhere else such as "sin," "hell," and "repentance," as well as becoming taboo to preach on subjects related to it such as Bible prophecy and the Second Coming.  Altar calls and revivals - once the spiritual "bread-and-butter" of the Evangelical churches - are now deemed "antiquated" and "irrelevent."   Worse, societal ills have crept into churches that just a few decades ago wouldn't have even entertained the notion of accepting - divorce rates are at an all-time high among professed Christians, as is consumption of alcohol and pornography, and I see a lot of religious syncretism going on as more and more supposedly "spirit-filled" Christians are dabbling in occultic practices such as reading horoscopes, etc.   It has gotten so bad that once I remember in an office I worked that the manager - a self-professed Pentecostal Christian - would often ogle pornography while listening to "praise" music!  What blasphemy!!  However, it gets worse, especially when one sees what is happening to the youth in churches.   In 2006, noted Evangelical speaker/author Josh McDowell published a book entitled The Last Christian Generation (Holiday, FL: Green Key Books) and the premise of the book was the fact that many professed Evangelical Christian youth are in a crisis of faith due to the fact they are not being properly discipled and reached.   He notes, on page 18, that George Barna conducted a poll in which 98% of "Christian" young people simply "believe in Christ" but do not reflect Christian attitudes or actions.   But, it gets scarier - on page 15, Mcdowell notes some other disturbing statistics among church-going youth:

  1. 63% don't believe Jesus is the Son of the one true God;
  2. 58% believe all faiths teach equally valid truths;
  3. 51% don't believe Jesus was bodily resurrected;
  4. 65% don't believe Satan is a real entity;
  5. 68% don't believe the Holy Spirit is a real entity
McDowell correctly notes that much of what these kids are believing comes from a distorted view gleaned from the world around them - they get much of their inspiration from crap like these reality shows, or from nonsense like "Glee" or "90210," or they follow the Gospel According to Oprah.  Since this book was written in 2006, something more disturbing has happened - of the 35% that do accept Satan as real, many of those are following his deceptions and are getting involved in the occult and other stuff thanks in part to stuff like the "Harry Potter" phenomenon as well as this proliferation of romanticized vampire fantasies from the Twilight movies and other similar media.   In a very insightful book I read recently entitled God's Ghostbusters by Tom Horn (Crane, MO: Defender Publishers, 2011) an essay in the book entitled "The Blood is the Life" by Derek Gilbert sums up something about this whole thing - he says, and I quote:

The transformation of the vampire from monster to hero reflects the gradual decay of of the Christian faith into an anemic shell of its former self.  The critical role of the blood shed by Jesus Christ for the redemption of our sins has been replaced in many churches today, eithe by an emphasis on our own works, or by a kinder, gentler Jesus for whom the greatest sin is being untrue to our innermost desires.   (Horn, 70)

This goes back to Archbishop Haverland's assessment that profound individualism on the part of Evangelicals will over time lead to secularization.   The stats and quotes I have supplied here are evidence that this is not something for the distant future - it is happening now!  And, not only is secularization a threat, but worse, many of these kids will soon discover that secularization doesn't fulfill the spiritual void and they will start looking for something to do just that - it is a field day for Satan, because as this vampire trend (we have talked about that before) becomes more popular, it is going to introduce kids to the dark side of spirituality, and that could mean their very souls are at risk.   All of this while Rick Warren and his many disciples fiddle around and play "Purpose-Driven Church" - it's all good to them, because their salaries are getting paid and their bank accounts are fat!  They have "dumbed-down" the Gospel so much that it is hardly recognizable, and as a result, people have a spiritual hunger.  If those of us who know the truth do not take advantage of this, many souls could be lost for eternity and accountable from our hands, as their blood will stain us crimson.   And, that is all the more reason why I believe Archbishop Haverland's article is important - he sees the opportunity the Holy Spirit is giving to us as conservative Catholic Christians, and he I truly believe has been given this insight for the Holy Spirit. Now, let's talk about that.

The Archbishop talks about the dilemma among the Southern Baptists - and among Evangelicals in general - generating a huge potential audience for our message.  What is our message?  It is the historic Catholic Faith, grounded in Scripture and Holy Tradition, and as the Archbishop correctly assesses, it is exactly what many of these people need.  Although many youth, for instance, are being secularized, or worse even being drawn into occultism through the proliferation of vampire cults and such, there are a Remnant of young people who are discovering the historic Liturgy and spirituality of our faith, and they want it!  Unfortunately, they are not going to find it in Rome - the Roman Catholics have their own issues that parallel the Evangelicals - and they unfortunately will not find it in the Christian East - the East tends to, despite a beautiful and rich spirituality, degenerate into legalism and triumphalist mentality when it comes to the idea of other Christians.   So, it is up to those of us who are independent Catholics and Continuing Anglicans to reach these people.   Youth are searching, and older sincere Christians also end up being dispossessed a lot of times as their former congregations, many of which they were pillars of at one point, have embraced entertainment, Rick Warren, or the Emerging Church, and when these dear people see something is amiss with all that garbage, they are often thrown out like yesterday's garbage from churches they had contributed so much to in the past.   All of these people need a home, and they need spiritual communion - we can offer that.   And, we should.  The harvest is indeed ready for the American mission field, and we who are independent Catholics and Continuing Anglicans need laborers to gather it.   Let us catch that vision, and let's give the orphans a secure home - they are our brothers and sisters in Christ, as they are already dedicated Christians, so they need us too.   May we take this to mind in all of our parishes as our Archbishop has presented us a challenge.  May we, as the Roman Catholic Mass rightly says, "go in peace to love and serve the Lord" by providing a spiritual home to our dispossessed brethren.  Amen.

Monday, December 12, 2011

In The Image - A Radical New Perspective

So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.  (Genesis 1:27 NKJV)

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privelege of hearing a singing evangelist by the name of Jeff Steinberg at a local church where he was in concert.  Jeff is not your typical evangelist - he is a little person, was born without arms, and spent most of his younger life in hospitals going through corrective surgery.   He holds the microphone as he sings and speaks with a prosthetic hook, and he autographs his books and CD's with a pen in his mouth.  Yet, this amazing guy is someone God is continuing to use mightily, and his testimony is one of the most inspiring things you will ever hear.  I finished reading his book, Masterpiece in Progress,  just recently, and there is something he taught me from reading it that certainly I hadn't seen before, but it makes perfect sense in the light of the total context of the Bible - being created in God's image doesn't mean we look necessarily like clones of the Most High, but rather that God created us in the image He personally saw of us!  Think about that for a moment, as it will rattle some theological cages, but it will revolutionize your view of yourself and of human nature in general if you grasp it.  I was so inspired by it personally that I decided to do this study on the whole thing, and hope it will be a blessing to you as well.

Humanity is far from perfect - we sin, we have physical issues a lot of times, and as we age we get fatter, more wrinkly, and less hairy on our heads and more hairy in other places.   Reason for that is simply because our mortal flesh was not meant to be eternal, but our souls and spirits are.  And, with the sting of sin affecting humanity, one of its consequences is that all mortal flesh will die someday - one in one die, let's face facts!  Now, that doesn't detract from the fact that there will be a resurrection of the body, but like Scripture says, if we are dead in Christ we will be raised incorruptible in glorified bodies, being restored to that which God originally intended.  However, on this earth, we deal with physical pain, bodily inperfections, and death as part of the process.  I said all of that now to say something that will shed new light on the verse that I opened this study with, so let us begin.

Sickness and suffering, as mentioned, are a consequence of the fall and we all are subject to that at some point.  However, God always has plans for things, and in a lot of cases He can even use our limitations to His greater good, and thus this verse.  When God said he created us in His image, that by no means implies we are to look and act exactly like God Himself.   Much bad theology over the years has resulted from a misunderstanding of that, and in many cases it has had tragic consequences.  Take, for example, this whole "health and wealth" nonsense in these charismatic churches that is often piped from the peepers of TV preachers like bad elevator music.   If half of that heresy were true, then we should all be walking around looking like Romanesque statues or something - have you looked in the mirror lately though?  I know I don't come anywhere close to an Adonis personally, and sorry, but neither do you!  And, sorry to say to those crooks on TBN, but neither do they - one of the idiots teaching this weighs about 400 pounds for instance, and another one - and Lord forgive me for saying this - is this woman Bible "teacher" who is uglier than a mud fence!  Their issue is not what they look like, but rather what they are saying - they have not only disqualified (in their not-so-humble opinions) 99% of the human race from God's blessings, but they have disqualified themselves.   Thanks be to God that HE is in charge, and His truth has more sense than some people selling his name like cheap moonshine.   Another example recently that my good friend Johnny Lee Clary, a wonderful evangelist with a tremedous testimony, shared with me was this church who decided that, due to some "revelation," they were going to ban fat preachers from their pulpit!  Well, that rules out a lot of good ministers in the South down here then, don't it?  Do you think God really cares what we look like on the outside?  I mean, seriously, there is nothing wrong with healthy living and exercise, and we all need those to be sure, so that is not what I am talking about.  What I am talking about is this mentality that all women need to look like Playboy centerfolds and men like GQ models, and sadly that mentality has entered into the Church - especially with these "Purpose-Driven" and "seeker-friendly" fads that are a bi-product of the Emerging Church cult.   However, God never said that to be "in His image" meant you had to look perfect - He meant that we are created in an image He had for us, as an individual, from the beginning of the world.  God doesn't mass-produce babies in heaven, but each of us is, as Psalm 139:14 says, "fearfully and wonderfully made."  And, that aspect of our creation goes hand-in-hand with Romans 12:4-5, which talks about us being one Body with many members, as well as the diversity of gifts in the Body of Christ it talks about in Ephesians.   The talent and creativity you have personally and individually is not an accident - God gave it to you!  And, if we are to follow Christ, we learn to use those talents and creativities to His glory and to the best of our ability.  Jeff Steinberg is a man who does that well, I must say - not only him, but so many others.   Take Jacob Berry, for instance - he is a young Free Will Baptist evangelist in Oklahoma I believe who was born with muscular dystrophy, and although he cannot talk and has to be in a specially-made wheelchair, he is in God's eyes a great creation, and God has used him to touch many lives.  Then there is David Ring, the Southern Baptist evangelist from Arkansas with cerebral palsey - in the 30+ years he has been in public ministry, untold numbers of people have been touched by his testimony as well.   I also need to mention Joni Earickson Tada, who for decades has produced so many things such as paintings, music recordings, and books, and yet she is a quadraplegic who cannot move a muscle on her body.   And, there is my friend Bill Burtoft, whom I went to college with - Bill has been in a wheelchair, yet he not only has a strong and unshakable faith, but he also has a sharp mind and you couldn't find a more capable technology whiz than this guy.    If the establishment (and some heretical TV preachers) would have had their way, all of the above would have been cast by the wayside and even aborted at birth, but God uses what the world casts out as "foolish" oftentimes to confound the idiocy of worldly wisdom, and all the individuals I have mentioned - all handicapped people I might add - have been used greatly of God to touch and improve many lives.   The testimonies of these people have prevented suicides, healed marriages, and more importantly, brought people to the altar to be born again of the Holy Spirit in Christ.   Appearances can indeed be deceiving sometimes, and we need to be more discerning of that as a Church.  What is created in God's image may not always be what we think, and sometimes those perfect specimens of humanity we think are "blessed" of God may often be no more than prettily-packaged compost heaps as God sees them.   Which is why I believe God can use a person in a wheelchair more often than not than he can a supermodel, because looks indeed can be deceiving - my friend Bill, for instance, is secure with who he is, and while he lives his life as God intended, the next "America's Top Model" is puking her guts out in the bathroom sink due to the fact she ate a Lifesaver and is tormented about that.  Which one of them do you think is more in God's will?  Think about that.  

It is not just physical disabilities though that people often flippantly dismiss, but other factors as well.  Some people, for instance, are born into money and they get all the opportunities, all the prestige, and all the accolades due to the fact they have Donald Trump as a grandpaw or something.  Yet, often, these same people cannot operate a toaster, yet they are in places of authority.   On the other hand, there are people much like myself who were reared in poverty, with a single parent, and had to fight and scratch and scrape to get somewhere, and often those people are written off as statistics.  Let me tell you about me - according to the "official" statistics, I should have been an alcoholic, had a girl knocked up at 16, and should have been dead 10 years ago.  Yet, I was a great student in school, never had a taste for alcohol, and finished college and made something of myself, and still have no kids!  Reason is, I followed God's plan instead of man's, and thankfully I did that.   I was created in the image God made me, and He knew just what would bring out my best and thus made the way for that to happen.   God wants to do that for all of us, but oftentimes we are so blinded by what the world thinks that we miss it, and oftentimes the world too writes us off because we don't fit into their profile for success.   God, however, is greater than the world, and if He wills something for your life and you are yielded to what He wants to do, you will be that person God intended you to be as an individual.  It may not involved great financial riches, and you may not be a great superstar or model, but you will know within the depth of your being that you are where you are supposed to be.  People may give you opposition for that - expect it, as a matter of fact! - and you may even screw up on occasion along that pilgrim trail (I could tell you stories of my own on that one, believe me!) and you may get impatient and discouraged at times because things may not be where you think they should be.  However, remember this - we need to trust God to guide our steps.  It is hard, and honestly as I write this it is something I struggle with just as some of you do, but we need to find peace within ourselves to understand God doesn't steer us wrong.   Remember again, we are created in HIS image - not necessarily a carbon clone of Him, but in the image He made us - and that means something in the greater scheme of things.   So, be encouraged today as you read this, and hope to visit you again really soon.