I found an article written about a year ago by Bill Muehlenberg, who teaches at several Australian theological seminaries. He notes that with the Octo-mom and 13-year-olds fathering children we have finally begun to reap some of the ultimate consequences of the sexual revolution.
Of course, on TV and in universities, ushering in the age of unrepressed sexual activity is still lauded as one of the great advancements in society. This, as we all know, is nonsense. To underscore his point, Muehlenberg offers this critique from Chesteron:
As G.K. Chesterton wrote a century ago: A society that claims to be civilized and yet allows the sex instinct free-play is inoculating itself with a virus of corruption which sooner or later will destroy it. It is only a question of time. He is worth quoting at length:
What had happened to the human imagination, as a whole, was that the whole world was coloured by dangerous and rapidly deteriorating passions; by natural passions becoming unnatural passions. Thus the effect of treating sex as only one innocent natural thing was that every other innocent natural thing became soaked and sodden with sex. For sex cannot be admitted to a mere equality among elementary emotions or experiences like eating and sleeping. The moment sex ceases to be a servant it becomes a tyrant. There is something dangerous and disproportionate in its place in human nature, for whatever reason; and it does really need a special purification and dedication. The modern talk about sex being free like any other sense, about the body being beautiful like any tree or flower, is either a description of the Garden of Eden or a piece of thoroughly bad psychology, of which the world grew weary two thousand years ago.
Muehlenberg ends his article by saying, "We are today witnessing the bitter fruit of allowing sex to become a tyrant. Each day new headlines testify to the fact that when we abuse the wonderful gift of sex, we abuse ourselves and our neighbours. The question is, how much more abuse can we take as a culture before society can no longer function?"
A more pertinent question could not be asked.
The LA Times recently ran an op-ed piece by Barry Goldman taking Americans to task for mixing and matching various belief systems. However, Goldman makes the same basic mistake that is at the root of his rebuke towards the public.
Goldman opens his op-ed piece by quoting from a recent Pew study that states
"Large numbers of Americans engage in multiple religious practices, mixing elements of diverse traditions. Many also blend Christianity with Eastern or New Age beliefs such as reincarnation, astrology and the presence of spiritual energy in physical objects. And sizable minorities of all major U.S. religious groups say they have experienced supernatural phenomena, such as being in touch with the dead or with ghosts."
Goldman then sums up the findings by writing "What is striking about the Pew study is not the prevalence of superstition and hocus-pocus, alarming as that is. It is the feeling that we are free to choose from a broad, cafeteria-style menu of superstitious hocus-pocus. Charles Blow in the New York Times called it the construction of 'Mr. Potato Head-like spiritual identities.'"
It's true that Americans DO take a cafeteria-style approach to beliefs – often holding contradictory beliefs as both being true. This has been a big problem in our culture, primarily because people just don't think through the implications of their belief system. However, Goldman completely crumbles in his analysis. He tries to make a distinction that facts are not things based on preference by referring to the story of elementary class that couldn't tell whether their pet rabbit was a male or female, so they decided to vote about the rabbit's sex. He then opines:
"We no longer trust the guys in the seminaries to determine which ideas are inside and outside the community of faith. We feel entitled to make our own decisions. Fair enough; the facts with respect to spiritual matters have always been somewhat elusive. But now many of us feel entitled to decide which scientific ideas to accept. Scientists have their ideas about, say, the age of the Earth or evolution by natural selection, and other people have other ideas. According to this new view, neither has any more claim to legitimacy than the other. There is no fact of the matter."
Goldman concludes his article by saying "We used to be a nation with a broad consensus. If you had a religious question, you asked a religious leader. If you had a scientific question, you asked a scientist. Today, if you have a question (about your enthusiasm for a belief) you ask another enthusiast." Here's where Goldman shows that he doesn't know what he's talking about. He seems to think that expert consensus is the determining factor whether or not we should believe something. That position is ridiculous. If an individual holding to a belief doesn't make the thing true or not, then an expert consensus doesn't make it true either. There have been many times where "asking a scientist" has given a wrong answer just as asking a religious leader did. Two examples I can think of right away are the science of genetics – where Gregor Mendel's findings didn't achieve widespread acceptance for some 40 years, since Mendel's theory collided with the Darwinian view of blending inheritable traits from parents – and the age of the universe, where the desire for an infinitely old universe was so strong, it caused Einstein to add a fudge factor to his equations.
Goldman really stumbles here. What he should have said was that we hold to certain ideas because we believe them to be true. We have knowledge because we have justification for a certain belief. If a belief that we hold is contradictory – either internally (such as a Christian believing in reincarnation) or externally (such as calling a male rabbit a female), then that cannot be true – we must rethink our position. Experts can help, but that presupposes that they have also critically examined their field of study. However, it may very well be that the experts are wrong. It's quite possible the public could see this and choose to reject the belief.
Rational examination and holding to a belief because its true are the golden standard. Goldman may dismiss matters of faith as "the facts with respect to spiritual matters have always been somewhat elusive." This shows that Goldman has never investigated faith matters seriously. If there is a God, then dismissing the hard work of finding Him out is like the class who would rather choose the rabbit's sex than work to find the answer. Goldman is committing the same crime he's accused us of – choosing which beliefs fit his worldview and then running with them while he sanctimoniously rebukes everyone else.
In order to properly celebrate Christmas, there are three specific gifts that one must have. These have always been given since the very first Christmas and the wisest among men will continue to offer them – not only in this season, but all year long.
Gold is the first gift, a symbol and recognition of His kingship and divinity. Like the divine nature of Jesus, gold never tarnishes – it always maintains its purity. Because of this, gold is considered highly valuable. Also, gold endures where other elements would decompose when "attacked". No single acid can dissolve it. Silver can be dissolved by nitric acid, but not gold. Thus nitric acid was used as the original "acid test" for purity.
We offer our "gold" – the things we value the most in this world – for the untarnished and incorruptible gold of Jesus who is our divine mediator. He is our King and our God.
Frankincense is the second gift, a symbol of Christ's priestly work in atoning for sin. Incense was an important element of worship for Israel. Given the nature of animal sacrifice, the stench of death could be overpowering in the temple. The burning of frankincense would provide a pleasing aroma, covering the smell of sin and death. It is offered to God, symbolic of the prayers of repentance and requests of forgiveness. Frankincense only worked when it was burned – made nothing. We remember that Jesus made Himself nothing by humbling Himself to become man so that all men may live.
We offer up our sins – with their smell of death and corruption – to Him in exchange for His pleasing aroma before the Father. He is our high priest, consumed so that He may cover our sins with His blood.
Myrrh is our last gift, a symbol of Christ's death for us. The word myrrh derives from the Hebrew word for bitter. Used throughout the ancient world as an embalming fluid, myrrh was usually created by combining the resins of two different plants. Jesus had combined His divine nature with a human one for the express purpose of dying for humanity. As a fragrance, myrrh reacts differently than most resins in that "it expands and
'blooms' when burned instead of melting or liquefying."1 Jesus' death allowed His salvation to expand across the entire world. Myrrh was also used as an antiseptic medicine (re: Smyrna) to promote healing.
In recognition of His offering of His life for us, we offer our lives in return. But we can never outgive God. In offering up our lives we receive life everlasting. Jesus said "he who has lost his life for My sake will find it." (Matt 10:39)
I pray that you and yours will have a blessed Christmas this year – and that you won't forget to put the three most important gifts on your list. You see, these really aren't gifts from us. These are gifts to us, and a greater gift no man has known than the gift of Jesus.
(1) "Myrrh" Wikipedia article accessed 12/24/2009.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myrrh
Labels: Christmas Jesus gifts
For your Thanksgiving edification, I thought I'd reproduce one of the earliest Thanksgiving proclamations issues from the Continental Congress of the United States in 1782. Given that many today claim that the Christian roots of this country are in doubt, I offer up just one piece of evidence that Christianity was not merely deemed important, but the congress encouraged all individuals to "testify to their gratitude to God for his goodness" and made the even bolder declaration that this could be done "by promoting... the practice of true and undefiled religion, which is the great foundation of public prosperity and national happiness."
This is taken from a full class I gave entitled "Thanksgiving and America's Christian Heritage." You may download this class at http://bit.ly/69hQ0P, but hurry - it won't be available for long!
Do hereby recommend to the inhabitants of these States in general, to observe, and request the several States to interpose their authority in appointing and commanding the observation of THURSDAY the twenty-eight day of NOVEMBER next, as a day of solemn THANKSGIVING to GOD for all his mercies: and they do further recommend to all ranks, to testify to their gratitude to GOD for his goodness, by a cheerful obedience of his laws, and by promoting, each in his station, and by his influence, the practice of true and undefiled religion, which is the great foundation of public prosperity and national happiness.
Done in Congress, at Philadelphia, the eleventh day of October, AD 1782.
- The number of Christians has declined 12% since 1990, and is now 76%, the lowest percentage in American history.
- The growth of non-believers has come largely from men. Twenty percent of men express no religious affiliation; 12% of women.
- Young people are fleeing faith. Nearly a quarter of Americans in their 20’s profess no organized religion.
The article goes on to draw a couple of conclusions from the survey, namely that attention in churches needs to turn from older people to the youth, who are leaving in droves and America remains a spiritual country, but organized religious institutions are fading as the way to draw closer to God. These are probably valid insofar as they go, but I wanted to add a couple of thoughts myself.
1) We’re living in a society that’s become a post-Christian culture
This is becoming more and more evident. It used to be that even if one wasn’t a true believer in Jesus, you would accept things like the Bible was a source of authority and the general principles of Christian morality were applicable for all people of the society. However, that’ s no longer true today. Moral relativism is becoming more and more prevalent. Accepted cultural norms are being challenged all the time. Marriage is being redefined. These show that Christianity is no longer the de facto worldview for many people and this means that more people will no longer label themselves as Christians simply because they live in a “Christian nation”.
2) Many people no longer classify themselves as Christians simply because they were raised in a church.
In the past, many people when asked what their religious affiliation was would look back on their childhood church experiences and say “Christian” since the church of their youth was such. But our culture is changing to one that is post-Christian, and people no longer see these childhood experiences to be valid in their process of self-identification. It is as much a by-product of the modern generations’ desire to forge their own identity as anything else. We don’t want to be forced to follow the crowd, but have been taught that we can be anything we want. People are taking that view seriously.
3) Mainline Denominational Approach to Christianity is Dying
Declining attendance and membership at mainline protestant denominations is a fact that has been well-documented in recent years. Even as mainline groups become more and more liberal, those who continue to follow their teachings are becoming fewer and fewer. I personally believe that once you give up the concept of the Bible being the authoritative source of truth in spiritual matters, but try to shape Scripture to fit the moral framework of the existing culture, you’ve lost any need for church as a guide. Some people will continue with their affiliations because of the social services churches provide or the relationships the church fosters, but others can find those things in different types of institutions and therefore won’t need a church anymore.
4) The youth of today do not see value in traditional models of church
Of course, given the above, it’s no surprise that many young people today will not see value in church at all and will stop going when they are first given the chance. Their social network provides them with interactivity and relationships. Also, I think kids get it when they see someone just going through the motions as so many in mainline protestant denominations are. Kids want absolutes. They want to know what’s right and what’s wrong. If our churches aren’t providing that, then they will be viewed by the younger generation as mere facades of authority.
5) Theology is for “professionals”
A big problem I see is the general ignorance of Christians to the basics of their faith. We live in a culture where all the information we would ever want is at our fingertips, but we’ve never felt it necessary to develop a critical mind in weighing it all. Talk show pundits tell us how to think on political or cultural issues, and Wikipedia passes for research. This is no truer than in the church, where we rely on our pastor as the paid professionals to study the Bible for us and then tell us what it says. This is a sin as we are commanded to “always be prepared to make a defense for the hope that is within you” (1 Pet 3:15). We should study and understand ideas like the nature of God, what the Trinity is, and what moral framework the Bible really does present. That means we will also need to understand proper ways to study the text – hermeneutics and exposition – so we can rightly divide the word of Truth. But that means work. Are we willing to study to show ourselves approved for Jesus?
I think as we continue to move to a post-Christian culture, we need to prepare ourselves to face some of the difficulties that the early church faced. We’re going to be challenged about our beliefs more. Our moral basis is going to be questioned. Ridicule and persecution will probably increase. And we’ll face more and more moral stances that deviate from what we saw as the norm. Lack of morality is what the world does – I’m not surprised at that. But just as the pre-Constantine church had to struggle to get their ideas across to a world that saw them as foreign, so we may also have to work harder at being better followers of Jesus - even if the opposition increases.