In December's Reader's Digest there is an article by Paul Johnson entitled "The Real Message of the Millennium." It is a positive, upbeat assessment about the state of Christianity: the way it has survived until now and will continue to do so. The author mentions the inaccuracy of Nietzsche's pronouncement in 1882 that "God is dead" (62) along with the failure of Julian Huxley's 1957 prophecy: "Operationally, God is beginning to resemble not a ruler but the last fading smile of a cosmic Cheshire cat" (63).
Upon what is the author's optimism based? He cites "Christianity's" spread in West Africa (63), Russia, and China (64). "The Catholic Church, for the first time, has more than a billion members, and other Christian churches collectively have almost as many followers" (64). Obviously, Johnson is counting as Christians a great many people who would not be so classified by the Scriptures.
Imagining what Jesus would find if He visited churches today, the author expresses this view:
Familiar to Jesus would be the remarkably accurate echoes of his own words. If he were to listen to an ordinary sermon preached during Sunday service at, say, a Catholic church in an Italian village, or a Southern Baptist chapel in Texas, he would hear the same injunctions he addressed to the common people nearly 2000 years ago (64-65).
Oh, that it were so! It could be--if both groups would present, say, Matthew 5:3-12 as the text and go no further. But what happens when they teach salvation?
One group is going to teach obedience and loyalty to the Roman Catholic Church and all of its traditions. Another group is going to tell people they can be saved by "faith only" and that once they are saved, they will always be saved.
Although His precepts (Matt. 5:3-12) may be taught by both groups, Jesus did not teach loyalty to the pope or to the Roman Catholic Church--neither of which existed in the first century. Neither did Jesus nor any of His apostles ever teach salvation by "faith only." Likewise, Jesus would observe today something else that was never part of the worship of the church in the first century--instrumental music. In other words, if one discounts the truth concerning salvation and what constitutes acceptable worship, Christianity is in good shape!
The sad reality is that truth is no longer popular with most people. We live in a society in which the majority of people reserve the right to believe and worship the way that makes them feel the most comfortable. An internal opinion of right and wrong, truth and error, has replaced any external, objective standard that might come from the Scriptures. There is little use for the Bible any more--except as people look at it for some sort of substantiation for what they already believe.
As in the secular world, so it is in the religious world--the only doctrine that remains unacceptable is the one that says that any particular teaching is right and all of those that contradict it are wrong. Everyone is right; every doctrine is correct. Although there may be different hues of right, there is no wrong--except for those who insist upon exclusiveness (John 14:6).
Recently, one Southern Baptist said that the prayers of Jews were not heard by God. One would have thought the person had advocated killing abortion doctors. The general public was outraged, and Southern Baptists were quick to disassociate themselves from the statement. But wait a minute! If the Bible teaches that salvation can only come through Christ (John 14:6), and Jews reject Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, then they cannot be saved from their sins because they have rejected the Redeemer God appointed, along with His plan of redemption. If they remain lost in their sins, then God does not hear their prayers, for "God heareth not sinners" (John 9:31 and other passages).
The problem is that no one is willing to admit that anyone else is lost. Baptists got into the same problem two years ago by saying that they were going to try to convert Mormons while they were at their convention in Salt Lake City. People took umbrage over that notion, also. Why, the very idea that Mormons are not Christians! Never mind that they follow the teachings of a false prophet who spoke lies. In our society all error has been sanctified, and every religious adherent must be accepted as being at least as "Christian" as every other religious adherent.
Not only are all denominations acceptable; so is every religion. Jews, Muslims, Wiccans, and anything else with a remotely religious flavor must be fellowshipped as equal partners. In practical terms, this philosophy means we have no cause to be evangelistic. The inevitable result of "I'm OK; you're OK" is that there is no one left to convert. If all religions are correct, eventually we must also come to respect the religions of atheism and secular humanism.
The results of this kind of thinking are twofold. The first result is that anything religious is accepted as valid--no matter how outlandish or inane. Just last month the November 11th The Dallas Morning News featured a story (not on the religion page) about a man visiting this area who "reported visions of the mother of Jesus in the Yugoslav village of Medjugorie 18 years ago" (29A). The paper published a picture of this man staring at a statue of the Virgin Mary before 3,000 people at Loos Athletic Field House in Addison.
Theoretically, this man reports messages from Mary. Reportedly her message calls for "prayer, peace, and repentance" (29A). That night she allegedly said that people "were to put God first and family second" (29A). Well, these things are certainly Biblical. Someone could have opened a Bible and read Luke 18:1-5 on prayer, Matthew 5:9 on peace, Acts 17:30-31 for repentance, and Luke 14:26-27 for putting God before family. Of course, reading the Scriptures is not as exciting as getting a message directly from the mother of the Lord.
However, the speaker departed from the Scriptures when he said that Mary also "urged people to attend Mass, to pray the rosary and to have a relationship with Jesus" (29A). If Mary had really spoken to the man, she would have told him to quit making of her an idol and that people were to pray not to her, but to God through Jesus Christ (Matt. 6:9; Rom. 1:8). The real Mary could scarcely have encouraged someone to attend Mass (a practice that is not even in the Bible) or say the rosary, which also is an invention of man.
One interesting sentence in this article is the one that states: "The Catholic Church neither endorses or condemns the visions' authenticity" (30A). Thousands of people are willing to hear what this man says even though their own church has not declared him as authentic!
Benny Hinn, an egotistical Pentecostal, has recently moved his ministry to the Dallas area. Columnist Steve Blow (whom we have taken to task in time past for his religious views) has performed a valuable service with respect to Hinn. He challenged the reading public in this area to report any bona fide healings at Hinn's hands. Only two wrote in, and what they claimed could not be verified. Undoubtedly, however, gullible people will flock to his place to be healed. Regardless of the miracles he fails to perform, numbers of people will no doubt subject themselves to his stage antics. Today, even crackpots have achieved credibility--without any evidence to support their claims.
It is only a step from saying that everyone's religion must be accepted to saying that everyone's values must be tolerated. Christian values can no longer dominate society because someone might be offended by them. Therefore Christian morality must be expunged from the public view. Oh, Christians still have freedom of expression--as long as they confine it within the walls of their church buildings.
The result of this philosophy has been disastrous. When Christianity, the basis for moral values, is denied access to everyday living, and our culture replaces them with heroes who have no moral compass and a theology that chants, "There are no absolutes," the result is a nation of people who, morally speaking, do not know their right hand from their left. We have become a vacant society. We are, as poet T.S. Eliot phrased it, "the hollow men." The lives of many people are as Jonathan King described it in his song, "It's Good News Week." Commenting on the vacuous emphasis of society, he wrote: "Have you heard the news? What did it say? Who won the race? What's the weather like today?" As if in answer to the question, Paul Simon wrote, "And the dangling conversation, and the superficial sighs, are the borders of our lives."
All of these are proclaiming the same message. Modern man lacks substance. Our educational system has dumbed down our youth's intellects, and the entertainment media have dumbed down our consciences and sense of value. Today's television sitcoms appear to have been written by third-year high school freshmen with hormonal problems. Most television programming by the four major networks are nothing more than expeditions into vanity. Some thrive on sexual innuendoes (or worse) and vulgarities. Not much is presented that would cause a person to think, "I want to be moral" or "I must come to know God better than I do."
A. L. Head, a resident of Sanger (just a few miles from Denton), recently wrote an outstanding guest editorial, which was published in the November 22nd Denton Record-Chronicle under the title, "Why All the Mass Killings?" He observes: "The secular, evil forces in America have all but drowned out religious education" (the entire article appears on page 10A).
He too cites television as a contributing factor in America's current void of values--along with the news media, the acceptance of abortion including the "most violent of these procedures" (referring to partial birth abortion), and the increasing hostility of the government which hampers "religious expression." He laments "the lost souls searching for meaning in their lives."
He also rebukes churches for failing in their task to preach the "simple message of Jesus Christ" and adds that a "social gospel does not have the power to convert or change behavior." The social gospel merely reflects the decision of churches to ignore doctrine and treat it as an irrelevancy. The substance has been removed from what churches teach just as it has been eliminated from society.
Mr. Head assesses accurately both the problem and the solution:
So what is the answer to the "why" question? It is obvious that the morality of the nation needs to be increased. This means to encourage religious beliefs. Only in religion is one taught of a Supreme Being that cares about us mortals. Only in religion is doing good to one's neighbor taught.
But how can such a change occur? No one expects the news media, the entertainment media, or the public school system to change. Churches will continue to ape secular practices so long as they are popular with people. And even more enemies exist than were specified in this article.
Just two days after Mr. Head's article appeared, an AP story related that the "Val Verde Board of Education in Riverside County, east of Santa Ana, voted unanimously" to overturn its decision to display the Ten Commandments in district offices (6A).
Apparently, the ACLU thinks God is dead and they were appointed in His place. They bully and threaten groups, organizations, and school boards to obey their will or else face a lawsuit against their highly efficient lawyers. One hint of their arrogance is seen in this paragraph: "Before dropping its lawsuit, the ACLU is seeking assurances that the board will not resurrect [a Freudian choice of words, since the ACLU opposes the resurrection, gws] the idea at the next meeting, said attorney Michael Small" (6A). That is to say, "Now, school board, don't try to put any tricks over on the ACLU. Promise us that you won't change your minds. We demand that everybody walk in lockstep with us."
Back on October 8th, the Denton Record-Chronicle reported that, when the "town of Gilbert just outside of Phoenix" wanted to celebrate "Bible Week," the ACLU charged that such an idea was unconstitutional. For once, a U.S. District judge ruled that their suit was invalid (3C), but minor inconveniences such as these do not even slow the ACLU down.
In Boise, Idaho atheists "are threatening to file suit to remove a 60-foot cross from a cliff that overlooks this city," according to the Denton Record-Chronicle (11-29-99). The ACLU already succeeded in getting a cross removed from public land; now atheists want them removed from private property (3A).
In just this small sampling we see the open hostility of the ACLU and atheists toward Christianity in that they cannot tolerate any public mention or even a symbol of Christianity. Examples could be multiplied many times over. So how are we to gain a more moral society and make a positive impression on today's young people? It is not enough that they are bombarded with a crude and vulgar culture, which has become oriented toward sex and violence; decent people cannot consider having a Bible week or posting the ten commandments in a public place without the ACLU scorching a path to the court house to prevent it.
Why are people so opposed to Truth? Many of the Jews in the first century were just as stubborn and resistant to the Truth as the ACLU is today. Both possess an unreasoning, irrational, rabid hostility towards Christianity which promotes goodness, decency, ethical integrity, and lofty moral values. Churches cannot correct society's problems when our current culture is doing everything it can to stifle their influence. Churches have no means to force people to attend their services and live righteous lives, and even if we did, it would not profit anything, so far as God is concerned, because He wants people's hearts. Either people must come to us with submissive hearts or be receptive when we come to them. Society can change only when individuals change.
*Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "WHY ISN'T TRUTH POPULAR? (12/5/99)."