Thursday, April 15, 2010
By definition, an assumption is: "the act of assuming or taking for granted." I've been surprised lately by how often I've encountered the thought-stifling power of assumption. We all do it. We look at someone and we draw a quick conclusion by appearances and we place someone in a category - often the wrong one. Or sometimes even worse, we make assumptions about our own, or others, ideas and beliefs that are based on nothing but tradition or regurgitated opinion. It reinforces my opinion that a large majority of people do not want to do the hard work of thinking.
I can relate to this myself because, particularly as a High School student, I spent my time looking for creative ways to get out of doing anything that required serious thought. But that changed for me in College. Somehow the lights came on and there awakened in me an insatiable thirst for knowledge. I love to read from a wide variety of fields and subjects and explore new concepts and ideas.
One of the common denominators that I have found in my reading is that, as I alluded to earlier, there are a great number of people who have not learned the discipline of critical thinking. I think that this is so important for all of us to master: to be able to ask the right questions, to question the assumptions and the preconceptions of those who would presume to teach.
We live in a culture that has moved far from the ideal of a free exchange and debate of ideas. Now we live in an age of political correctness, of acquiescence for fear of offense, with some notable exceptions. The problem with this is that we end up in the ridiculous position of moral relativism which, taken to its extreme, contends that all views have equal merit and that objective moral truth does not exist.
But ideas have consequences. It was Malcolm Muggeridge, the distinguished British journalist, who commented, “One of the peculiar sins of the twentieth century which we've developed to a very high level is the sin of credulity. It has been said that when human beings stop believing in God they believe in nothing. The truth is much worse: they believe in anything.” He did a great deal of writing about the consequences of the atheistic communist regimes of the Soviet Union, China, et al. Those regimes were/are responsible for the murder, imprisonment and denial of human rights to billions of people. These abuses flow directly from the idea that people have no intrinsic value; there's nothing special or unique about anyone except as a cog in a machine. A Chinese official, when confronted by an American tourist about the fact that thousands of people had died at the hands of their own government in the Tianenmen Square massacre in 1989 replied, "so what, we have billions of people in China."
While communism has gone out of vogue for the most part in the 21st century, we are still left with its intellectual roots - atheism. The new atheists (men like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens) have become more and more strident in their condemnation of all who would dare to differ with their assertions. There have been bestselling books recently trying to convince people that God is simply a figment of our imagination.
The good that comes out of this is that there can at least be debate, and there should be. This question is the greatest question of our time, or all time: Does God exist? This question needs to be asked because the greatest assumption of our day is the negative statement that God does not exist. This basic assumption underlies much of our culture: science, education, our judiciary, government, etc... The results of this belief can be seen in virtually every corner of our culture. It is at the root of the "intelligent design" debate in the U.S. Since the basic assumption of modern science is that there is no God and therefore there can only be a naturalistic explanation for everything that is, anything appearing to demonstrate "intelligent design" must be the result of other processes. I have read two articles recently in which respected scientists have gone so far as to say that either intelligent aliens somehow implanted life forms on the earth or life must have arrived here on the back of a meteor. This leap of faith was necessary in order that we not appeal to someone called God. Bizarre to say the least.
Complicating things further are what I would term "functional atheists." These are that large group of people who would claim to be Christians and to believe in the God of the Bible, yet who live their lives as if He does not exist. They are a far bigger threat to the Church than the new atheists will ever be. They ignore, or are completely unaware of, the clear teachings of Jesus. They confuse those who are sincerely seeking because of their hypocrisy.
Part of this (most of this?) must be laid at the feet of the church, which has failed to disciple people properly. Much of the church has turned away from the confusing controversies and hard questions and retreated to their "holy huddles" where they sing Kum-By-Yah and reminisce about the good old days. Well, the good old days are gone, and it's time to ask the hard questions. Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ relevant for today? Is there evidence for the existence of God? Why should I believe the Bible? How can we know the truth? Is there such a thing as truth?
There are good answers to these questions and, if Christians really care about people around us, we would be making sure that we know why we believe what we believe. And no, just because your Momma told you so is not a good enough reason. As 1 Peter 3:15-16 says: "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander."
What we believe does matter. I love the C.S. Lewis quote: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” I believe that it's of infinite importance. Jesus Christ has made all the difference in my life. Let me challenge you to start looking at the evidence for yourself.
You can start by attending a debate we're showing live via satellite on Sunday, May 2, 7:00 PM at Clearview Community Church in Stayner. It features Christopher Hitchens vs. William Lane Craig on the subject "Does God Exist?" It ought to be very interesting. Who knows, it might even make you think.
Friday, April 02, 2010
I've been doing a lot of reading and thinking lately about the church and what it's supposed to be. I know that there almost as many opinions on this as there are people, but I think it's important. The question that I've been asking myself is, what kind of church did Jesus intend when He first established it? By the way, the church was Jesus' idea, not anyone else's.
We used to live in a society that was openly Christian; therefore the role of the church was assumed and central. Those days are long gone. I don't think that is necessarily a bad thing. When the church's role is assumed it tends to rely on custom and tradition and, at least to me, seems to lose sight of its purpose. So, why is the church here?
Throughout Scripture we see that God uses people, as imperfect as we all are, to carry out His purposes. He chose the nation of Israel through whom he would reveal Himself. He told them that they were called out to be a light to all of the nations in the world. The church is a continuation of that purpose. Jesus called His disciples "salt and light." He declared that the church would carry on His work, and even do greater works than He Himself had done, through the Holy Spirit whom He sent (John 14:12-13). The nature of the church is expanded upon in the New Testament as in 1 Peter 2:9: "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."
As for how the church operates, what it looks like, the style, etc., I believe the Bible is deliberately vague. That is so that it can be effective and relevant in different cultures and times as it reaches out to all peoples in all places. Paul said it well in 1 Corinthians 9:22 when he said, "I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some." The core message doesn't (shouldn't) change, but the packaging varies widely. What is that core message? Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15 that he passed on what was of "most importance." "That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time."
In other words, the core message is that Jesus did come in the flesh, lived, taught, performed miracles, died and rose again so that we also may live. He commanded His church to preach this Gospel to all who would come after and to teach them to follow His teachings (Matt. 28).
Now to the point of my blog. Some of you reading this attend Clearview Community Church. You may or may not be aware that we have tried to tailor our Sunday morning services to relate to people who are "seekers," those who are interested in Christianity, but still have questions. We've tried to keep those services free of confusing forms and traditions while presenting the message clearly through music and speaking. Thankfully, we've seen many people come to that place where they have become Christ-followers. Here is where I'd like to be clear.
This is only the beginning of the process. I've already written on what it means to be a Christ-follower (look at the older blogs if you'd like) but I'd like to help us understand what many Christians worldwide, already understand. The Christian life is a life of surrender. Jesus' invitation in Matthew 16:24-25 is to "take up (our) cross and follow (Him)." I think it's particularly appropriate to write of this on Good Friday, a day set aside to remember the sacrifice of Christ.
Jesus willingly laid down His life in order to accomplish a reconciliation between us and God. He walked in heroic obedience, knowing that it was the only way. We honour our soldiers and firefighters and other first responders because they willingly put themselves in harms way for the sake of others. Jesus was the ultimate example of that. Then he invited us to take up our own cross of sacrifice and follow Him into a life of purpose.
What is God's call to you? You will never find it if you are only "interested." God's deeper purposes are revealed only to those who are willing to swim in the deep waters and trust Him. Take the time to read through some of the narratives in Scripture and dare to place yourself in them.
See yourself in the story of Gideon, a young man, from a weak family in a small tribe who God used to save a nation. See yourself in the story of Paul, a rebel against God who was turned around and used as (arguably) the greatest missionary in the history of the world. Or how about Rahab, a prostitute who switched allegiances, saved God's people and ended up being one of Jesus' ancestors.
God is writing a story that ends with the recreation of a new heaven and a new earth. He's calling a people who are willing to help Him make that happen, because He chooses to use people. Not the smartest, or the strongest or the richest, just the willing; those who understand that what He has to offer is worth laying down our lives for. Remember that on Good Friday he laid down His life as well, and on Sunday He rose again so that we can rise as well. "Follow me!"