Category Archives: Christianity

Church bores me. Why should I go?

Friend, you are not the only one who feels bored at church. One Sunday, a young guy named Eutychus gathered with other Jesus-followers in a home, which was their custom at the time. Paul was there that day to teach. He was smart, but not a great speaker,[1] and he talked … and talked … and talked until midnight. Eutychus listened while sitting on the windowsill of a third-story room. At one point he couldn’t keep his eyes open. He fell asleep and fell out the window. He died when he hit the ground.

Before you draw assumptions, the moral of this story isn’t “pay attention in church or else!” The story isn’t over.

Everyone rushed downstairs. Paul took the young man’s dead body into his arms and said, “Don’t worry, he’s alive!” And Eutychus was fine. Someone took him home to rest; everyone else went back upstairs and listened to Paul teach until dawn.

Let’s review: Paul preached a really long time, Eutychus fell asleep and tumbled from a third-story window and died, and Eutychus was miraculously raised from the dead.

So why go to church even though it can be boring at times? In church, we get to see people come alive again. We get to see a man, deadened by addiction, reborn. We get to see a woman’s life-taking emotional wounds heal into scars. We get to see relationships and people come alive in the power of Jesus.

Church is a community of the resurrected. Paul said, “You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.”[2]

It’s okay to be bored in church sometimes. God won’t strike you with a lightning bolt or throw you out a window. At times you’ll be tired or will find the sermon uninteresting. In those moments, remind yourself why you’re there. Church isn’t an event — it’s a group of people who reveal where God is bringing life to the world and how we can be part of it.

Now, you might be thinking, “I don’t see signs of life at my church. I don’t feel resurrected. The church people I know act like zombies.” Well, even zombies are the reanimated dead, right? Some people still have a long way to go to become more like Jesus — we all do. Show some grace. Help people along. Be the person that you needed during your spiritually dark times. Realize that you’re in church not just for yourself, but for others. As Anne Lamott says, you attend church to take in new life and offer it to others.

[1] 2 Corinthians 11:6

[2] Colossians 2:13-14

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Why do some church people seem so “phony?”

One answer is fear. Every church is comprised of ordinary human beings, but we often refuse to acknowledge our similarities to each other. We feel as though we ought to rise above our problems—especially temptations.

Yet so often we don’t. And so we regularly fake it for fear of what people will think. We fear that others might pull away from us if they knew the worst about us. This, of course, leads to hypocrisy.

While Jesus hates hypocrisy, he loves us. And so he told us: “Don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly … where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.”[1] He also said, “When you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do.”[2] Jesus was warning us about religious people who valued how they looked more than they valued their relationship to God and to each other.

Can we get past the fear that isolates us and turns us into hypocrites? Yes, but it starts with dangerous honesty.

One of the remarkable things about the Bible is its honesty about its “heroes.” Noah got so drunk he passed out. Abraham was willing to let another man take his wife (twice!) until God intervened. Moses’ anger turned into murder. David had an affair with a married woman and then orchestrated her husband’s death in battle. Yet Hebrews 11 points to these individuals as heroes of the faith. They were ordinary people with big flaws and genuine faith.

The apostle Paul wrote openly about his struggles. “‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,’” he wrote, “and I am the worst of them all.”[3] In another letter he admitted, “I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.”[4] This caused him to exclaim, “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”[5]

Our faith should be public, but it shouldn’t look “religious.” We are called to be followers of Jesus, even though we won’t follow Him perfectly. And church, of all places, should be a safe environment where we can admit our imperfections, our struggles, our addictions, and our tendency to fail. In other words, it’s a place where we hypocrites can be honest—even about our hypocrisy.

This question Why do church people seem so fake? is rooted in a stereotype. Surely many church attenders are fake. But most of us realize we are on a spiritual journey that started when we turned to Jesus in faith. Our part is to admit our own hypocrisy, ask God to change us, and let our own example of honesty become part of the solution, not a perpetuation of the problem.

[1] Matthew 6:5

[2] Matthew 6:16

[3] 1 Timothy 1:15

[4] Romans 7:15

[5] Romans 7:24–25

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Should I Believe in the Doctrine of Eternal Security?

Many Bible passages emphasize the reality of our security as believers in Jesus Christ: John 10:27-30; 13:1; Romans 8:29-39; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30; Jude 1:24.

But even genuine believers can backslide and lose the joy of their salvation. The New Testament gives many examples of believers who drew back from their fellowship with Jesus Christ: the disciples (Matthew 26:56); Peter (26:69-75); the Christians in Corinth (2 Corinthians 12:20-21); and the Asian churches (Revelation 2:4,14-15,20).

There is a stark difference between backsliding and apostasy—a permanent departure from the faith. A true Christian can backslide, be chastened, and then repent and return (Hebrews 12:6; Revelation 2:5). A person who has merely professed faith without a genuine encounter with Christ may depart, prosper outwardly, and never return. The apostle John said that some who had left the fellowship of believers and were now teaching false doctrine showed by their actions that they never really belonged (1 John 2:19).

The doctrine of eternal security is taught in Scripture, but it is intended to comfort true Christians who are earnestly concerned with living faithfully for Jesus Christ. People who once professed faith and are now living sinfully without remorse should not be comforted by assurances that their profession of faith guarantees their salvation. We gain nothing by examining the nature of the “decision” they made. We need to point out to them that their present lifestyle is out of keeping with their profession by showing them Scriptures such as 1 John 3:4-9. They must be led to self-examination. If they are genuinely saved, God will chasten them (Hebrews 12:6). They will repent and return.

It may be impossible for us to make a judgment as to whether a person is a backsliding Christian or an impostor. Sometimes only time will tell.

 

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What Is Calvinism?

Calvinism is the main branch of the historic Reformed movement. The Reformed movement had numerous leaders, including Ulrich Zwingli (1484–1531), Martin Bucer (1491–1551), and Heinrich Bullinger (1504–1575). The name Calvinism is derived from John Calvin (1509–1564), the theological giant whose thought came to dominate the Reformed movement, both through his writing and the influence of his adopted home town, Geneva, as an international hub of Reformed education and evangelism.

The Reformed movement held three foundational theological principles in common with other Protestants: Sola Scriptura (Scripture is the primary authority for the Christian), Sola Fide/Gratia (justification is entirely by faith, through grace), and the priesthood of the believer.

Each branch of the Protestant Reformation viewed Scripture through a distinctive philosophical and interpretative grid. Martin Luther’s influence made the primary focus of Lutheranism the justification of the believer by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Anabaptists were especially concerned with freedom of conscience, personal commitment to discipleship, and the essentially non-Christian nature of secular society. Calvinism’s organizing principle was the sovereignty and glory of God: Soli Deo Gloria.

Like many of the other Reformers, Calvin was deeply influenced by Augustine’s philosophical approach to the interpretation of Scripture. Calvin was one of the most systematic in developing the implications of predestination in the terms of the philosophy of his era. He also followed Augustine’s example in aspiring to develop a comprehensive Christian worldview that encompassed church and government within one rational system. At the young age of 28, he attempted to set up a government in Geneva involving unprecedented supervision of the private lives of its citizens. Although there was resistance at first, he eventually established a Reformed government that offered a civic example for Reformed leaders all over Europe.

Calvinists didn’t call for radical separation from the world and nonparticipation in government. Nor did they establish a spiritual hierarchy like that in Roman Catholicism. Unlike Lutherans, Calvinists were reluctant to cede princes and other secular rulers power over church officials. They placed a great priority on theological, intellectual, and moral training, and their church leaders tended to be the best educated and equipped of their membership. Calvin’s view of vocation and the sanctity of secular occupations was profoundly democratic, resisting the tendency to view clergy on a higher spiritual plane than those in secular roles. In addition, the Reformed movement had little tolerance for elaborate ceremony in worship and abhorred the use of images.

All Protestant denominations, as well as the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, acknowledge human depravity, divine predestination, the need for prevenient grace, and the mysterious interaction of divine authority and human freedom. Calvinism places a radical emphasis on predestination and attempts to work out its implications to a much greater extent than other Christian groups consider biblically appropriate or justifiable.

The principles of Calvinism were officially established at the Synod of Dort in 1618–1619 in response to the Remonstrants, a group that followed the Dutch Reformed theologian Jacob Arminius. The basic principles of Calvinism have since become associated with the acronym TULIP:

Total Depravity: Humans are spiritually dead to the extent that they must be supernaturally regenerated through the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit before they can accept God’s gracious gift of salvation.

Unconditional election: In eternity past, God chose a distinct group of human individuals to be saved and consigned the rest to be objects of His wrath. His choices were not in any way based on His foreknowledge of human actions.

Limited atonement: Christ died only for the elect, not for those God has selected for condemnation.

Irresistible grace: Those God has chosen cannot reject the gospel or resist the Holy Spirit’s supernatural work of regeneration and sanctification.

Perseverance of the saints: Because the elect are chosen by God and their faith is irresistibly enabled, they cannot depart from the faith and lose their salvation.

Not everyone agrees that the “Five Points of Calvinism” can be reconciled with Scripture. Many Christians believe that by normal rules of biblical interpretation, the “Five Points” can’t be reconciled with many passages that affirm human freedom (Isaiah 6:8; Isaiah 53:5-6; Matthew 23:37; John 3:16; John 21:17;1 Timothy 2:1-6; 1 Timothy 4:9-10; Hebrews 12:14-15; 1 Peter 5:8; 2 Peter 1:10; 2 Peter 2:1; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 2:2; etc.).

From its original home in Switzerland and France, Calvinist (Reformed) theology spread throughout Europe, taking root in such disparate places as England, Scotland, The Netherlands, Germany (especially the Palatinate), Bohemia, Hungary, and Transylvania. Puritans and other English groups transported Calvinism to North America. Calvinism has profoundly influenced European and American cultural development.

Today, many influential denominations hold Calvinist doctrinal positions, including the Presbyterian, the Reformed, and the United Church of Christ. Other denominations, including Anglicans and Baptists, have been strongly influenced by Calvinist thought.

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Were Disagreements Over Christian Doctrine the Main Cause for European “Religious Wars” of the 16th and 17th Centuries?

Many people assume the separation of church and state established in the US Constitution resulted from 16th- and 17th-century “religious violence” and “religious wars” in Europe. The wars of this period included the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) and the English Civil War (1642–1651).

These wars were foundational to the development of the political institutions of the West. They were part of a vast social/cultural/political process that ultimately replaced feudalism and the “divine right of kings” with the centralized, capital-based governments that dominate the world today.

The ferocious wars of these centuries made a deep impression on the collective memory of European people. Estimates of Central European deaths in the Thirty Years’ War run from 3 to 7 million (many of these resulting from starvation and disease among the civilian population). Deaths from war, disease, and starvation during the English Civil War have been estimated at around 800,000, or 4 percent, 6 percent, and 40 percent of England, Scotland, and Ireland’s populations respectively. Because nearly all of the participants in these wars had religious loyalties and convictions, religious feelings were often exploited by rulers. But religion was not the underlying motivation.

Two well-known examples involved the establishment of Lutheranism and Anglicanism. In the 16th century, Martin Luther’s reasons for breaking with the Catholic Church were theological, but the Reformation would have been quickly crushed if it hadn’t been supported by powerful European rulers whose motivations were primarily political and economic. King Henry VIII of England separated from Rome and formed the Anglican Church for pragmatic, nonreligious reasons—largely due to the refusal of the pope to grant an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. He believed the Catholic Church was interfering with the internal affairs of his kingdom. He also wanted to nationalize the vast holdings of the Catholic Church in England to consolidate his power.

In The Myth of Religious Violence (Oxford Press), William Cavanaugh refers to recent scholarship to show that the underlying causes of the “religious wars” of the 16th and 17th centuries weren’t religious. Cavanaugh includes eight pages of examples, of which the following quotation is only the first:

If there truly were a war of all sects against all, one would expect that war would have broken out soon after Europe split into Catholic and Protestant factions. However, between the time that Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the church door at Wittenberg in 1517 and the outbreak of the first commonly cited religious war—the Schmalkaldic War of 1546–1547—almost thirty years would pass. The Catholic prosecutor of the Schmalkaldic War, Holy Roman emperor Charles V, spent much of the decade following Luther’s excommunication in 1520 at war not against Lutherans, but against the pope. As Richard Dunn points out, “Charles V’s soldiers sacked Rome, not Wittenberg, in 1527, and when the papacy belatedly sponsored a reform program, both the Habsburgs and the Valois refused to endorse much of it, rejecting especially those Trentine decrees which encroached on their sovereign authority.” The wars of the 1540s were part of the ongoing struggle between the pope and the emperor for control over Italy and over the church in German territories (The Myth of Religious Violence, 143-44).

Cavanaugh provides massive documentation showing that rather than the state being the peace-making force that eventually solved the problem of religiously motivated violence, the process of centralizing public authority in a secular state was itself the most significant cause of violence. “There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that the transfer of power to the emergent state was a cause, not the solution, to the wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries” (ibid., p. 162).

These wars replaced the religion of the church with the religion of the state.

The historical evidence renders . . . the idea that the modern state saved Europe from religious violence . . . unbelievable. State building . . . was a significant cause of the violence. An important aspect of state building was the absorption of the church by the state, which exacerbated and enforced ecclesial differences and therefore contributed to warfare between Catholics and Protestants. In the process, the state did not rein in and tame religion but became itself sacralized. The transfer of power from the church to the state was accompanied by a migration of the holy from church to state (ibid., p. 176).

(The reason many still consider religion the primary cause of war and violence is discussed in (Is Religion Evil?)

 

 

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