Things we evangelicals have got wrong, in brief #3 (“The time is near!”)

My issues with the preaching of ‘End Times prophecies’ in churches began to appear often in my blogs a fair time ago. More recently, I have become even more skeptical of it all with realisations that things I took for granted have no basis in scripture (that’s what I get for listening blindly to pulpits too!), and I have already pointed these out in End Times prophecies 1, 2, and 3, and a recent brief thought.

Now I believe these issues have coalesced into a major problem, which occurs in maybe the vast majority of evangelical churches today. I have said before that anyone pointing to a date of Christ’s return is to be ignored, and fortunately many churches do recognise this. However, I have come to see something that is actually so glaringly obvious, I am amazed that I have never heard it being addressed….

When his disciples asked him how they would know when and how the destruction of the temple would occur (which happened in AD70, but this is a passage that is always linked to ‘end times’ and does refer to Jesus’ return)…

He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. (Luke 21:8)

The key words we seem to have overlooked here are ‘the time is near’ – how often have you heard this said, or similar phrases, like ‘we are in the last days’, ‘the signs are being fulfilled right now’, ‘I believe this is truly the last generation’, etc.? I have heard it repeatedly in every single church I have attended, and still do in my current church, so I know what I am saying will be controversial, and maybe quite unwelcome.

I had come to believe that ‘the signs are being fulfilled’ myself, although I have always said that when all things are considered, we cannot be certain about our interpretations, so we must only live by the knowledge that since we do not know clearly, we must always be ready for his return, which may be any day, soon or many years away. I must not actually believe it will be tomorrow, for then I would stop living for today, but I must act as if it could be tomorrow, so I shall be prepared for it.

I have recently come to believe that many things I thought were ‘signs’ are not (see blogs as listed above).

I have now concluded that if any pastor or preacher states that we are in the last days, or anything else that equates to ‘the time is near’ then I must ignore them, since my own Lord Jesus expressed that clearly. In fact, Jesus said ‘do not follow them’ but I know too many good pastors and preachers who say this, so I cannot choose to just dismiss them completely. I shall simply switch off when they say anything again that flies in the face of what Jesus commanded.

Well, for many years now, I have switched off any time an ‘end times’ sermon has been preached, so there’s little change on my part. Question is, what do you think?

Grace be with you.

Things we evangelicals have got wrong, in brief #2 (worship isn’t important)

 

This is a blog I had not intended to write. It was not in the list of ‘things in my head to address’ or even in my draft folder. However, I was offering comforting thoughts to a fellow blogger in the US who shared how her daughter’s missing dog had been discovered… dismembered and mutilated by a neighbour’s pit bulls, and deliberately! The rage she must surely feel towards that man now… we are to remind ourselves of the clear yet most difficult command Jesus gave us to love our enemy. Really not easy, and totally against our nature. It truly is very difficult to achieve.

One of the thoughts I offered was “We all find it hard, but he gives you the strength and the means when you lose yourself in his love.” Right away, I recognised just why I need to worship God, since that is where and when I ‘lose myself in his love’ and it takes me to a place where I feel enveloped in it, my mind is swamped by it, my thoughts given to nothing else but his love and why I want to continually praise him.

Now this is not something that all evangelicals get wrong, but it is certainly a prevalent belief within some churches that I have encountered, and it is that worship isn’t that important. It ranges from ‘we don’t need it’ to ‘we are commanded to worship him but it should be kept to a minimum and is very subordinate to the preaching of the word!’

Certainly, the gospel must be preached and the words of our Lord taught to his people! I have come across churches that sing and dance all night, and choose to continue doing so while the pastor’s bible remains unopened on the pulpit. That is wrong, and I fear that many who are against modern forms of worship view this as the outcome if they ‘allow’ such changes to take place. As long as a church has good teaching and preaching, whatever way they choose to worship is a slightly lesser issue as long as they do worship.

[I say ‘slightly’ since there is the issue of trying to make worship fit every taste that, as a band coordinator, I recognise is fraught with difficulty, but that’s another issue]

You see, I have always seen many churches in my native country as ‘Ephesian’ (we aren’t all in the ‘Laodicean age’ as dispensationalism would have you believe). The church at Ephesus was addressed by our Lord in Revelation (chapter 2) as one that was to be commended on their endurance, hard work and correct doctrine: they could rightly discern evil people and condemn heresies, but he rebuked them for one thing; they had ‘forsaken the love [they] had at first’! They were to get back to that place where they loved their Lord without reservation, or face his wrath. I think ‘removing their lampstand’ is a fairly severe punishment for a church – they would lose the light of their witness!

We must have a witness in this world, and the most important thing for a good testimony is love: it is how we are known by the world as true Jesus followers (John 13:35). I believe we can only do that once we immerse ourselves in his love and let it soak into us, as if we were a great sponge, and worship is where that takes place. It is vital for a church to function, witness, act, shine.

Worship is all about him, not us or our differences of opinion. Lose yourself in it!

Grace be with you.

Why get angry with God?

Yet again, I have encountered the angry atheist on social media! I get this often, and I’ve stopped really trying to get into a debate, since only face-to-face would do. It very often comes completely out-of-context as a comment on any article that addresses Christians about justice, forgiveness, judging, world politics, an atrocity, current news… well, very little that does not stir them into a frenzy of “HOW CAN YOU BELIEVE IN A JUST GOD WHO LETS ALL THESE AWFUL THINGS IN THE WORLD HAPPEN?”

Or words to that effect.

I shall not get into ‘freewill’ here – too long! Many books out there to read on the matter, and many, many theological debates have occurred (that I am sure you could find on YouTube easily too, though I haven’t looked). Nor am I going to offer any defence for God. Those who try just end up being very inadequate defence lawyers for an unfathomable Creator, and quite frankly, I believe God can do it himself, when and how he chooses; in the words of Bono: “Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady!”

At the same time, I have started watching a great BBC3 documentary series about excluded children – those who have been sent to a ‘special school’ for bad behaviour, and how they might be helped. Often there is a reason for disruptive behaviour in a child. One child was a model pupil who then started getting very angry with everyone, defying teachers, and getting into fights. Obviously, something had changed her, and as it turned out, she had lost both her mother and an older sibling in the same year. Clearly she was hurt and angry with the universe, and was lashing out.

Even before seeing this documentary, I had found myself, in the most recent online debate, asking one of these angry atheists if by any chance their anger with God was personal, and qualifying that it was not meant to be patronising, since reading that question via social media, it may well come across that way. I just got more anger, and others weighed in too.

Now I have often been asked just why I get so angry at the mention of the name of Thatcher. It is a problem for me; my wife can often be heard telling someone who doesn’t know “NO! Don’t mention her! Don’t get him started!!” I have been asked if it’s personal, and I have honestly answered that there was an element of it: she was the instigator of the ‘new era’ of prosperity, where everyone would have equal chance to get a fair slice of the pie, if only they were willing to work for it. Without labouring on all the lies we were sold, my own experience was of venturing out into self-employment and working every hour I had, applying my intellect and skills, and ended up with nothing more than some debt and a loss of self-esteem. Two further ventures into ‘hard work’ yielded the same results. It’s all a big con, and the ‘Protestant Work Ethic’ (whatever that may be to you, go figure) certainly does not apply here. In recognising my personal involvement, I was able to divorce that from my genuine righteous anger at the injustice around me, and empathise with the millions of hard-working poor (I’m now part of the non-working poor but maybe my book will change that). I was even able to reach a cathartic moment where I could forgive the person of Thatcher and seek forgiveness for my own hatred. All humans are valuable and worthy of loving, even politicians and billionaire bankers! Maybe even Islamic Jihadists too?

I’ve realised that anger against her gains nothing, especially now she’s long out of power, and dead too. It’s the whole ethos of the free market that needs to be railed against. Gordon Gekko summed up how we allowed that old thing that was called a sin in days of yore to become a mantra for life. In all the “we have taken a sin and rebranded it” ranting, greed seems to be the last one thought about, when it should be the first!

[Yes, I know Gekko is a fictional character, but literature, poetry, music and cinema is often the vanguard of truth in a world blinded by its own insanity]

SO: if you’re feeling angry at an ‘uncaring God’ in this universe, do two things: First, try to see if there is anything too personal that is clouding your judgment and making you boil over a bit too much – get a counsellor to help you if you can; seriously, you might be surprised at what burden(s) you could remove! Second, don’t stand yelling and shaking your fist at the sky – if you do see injustice in the world and atrocity committed, get angry with the perpetrators, not the big man in heaven. He didn’t do it.

Grace be with you.

Things we evangelicals have got wrong, in brief #1 (conviction)

These may well be topics I have blogged on before, but I feel now that it may be time we, as an evangelical ‘tribe’ (for that is what we are, in essence!) need the humility to recognise some things we may well have got wrong.

You see, we certainly do hold to the truth we believe that Jesus is the saviour of the world, and the only saviour, of whomever would believe in him, and we should never dilute that. However, we have many key beliefs and even some ‘pet’ beliefs that go along with it simply because a majority of our members hold to it, or even a vocal minority of pulpit preachers. That can lead to pride, which was the original sin (or was it?…. later!) and so we end up in a state we often condemn others for (being arrogant in ‘our own understanding’) and a place where we condemn anyone who doesn’t fit neatly into all the corners of our Christian-shaped box. My continual question always comes down to this: how much of this ‘shaping’ comes from God, and how much from our own interpretations, values and traditions? It is, in essence, the very nature of my blogging!

Writing the first chapter of my book, I expanded on my reasoning I blogged on in ‘Why I Hate Testimonies‘, which left me with a recollection that on a few occasions in the past, I have heard some say “without conviction of sin, there can be no salvation!” While it is evidently true that when we talk of ‘salvation’ then we must mean there is something we need to be saved from, and that something is either our sin, or the consequence of our sin (that’s a no-brainer), we need to be careful we do not make a consuming awareness of that sin an indispensable prerequisite of faith in Christ. Those who see no need of salvation have a worldview that does not include sin (at least, not in the way Christianity defines it), so you need to create that ‘sin-consciousness’ before you can reach anyone with the gospel if you believe it to be so vital.

In relating my own experience, I have reminded myself how I clearly had zero conviction before I decided to follow Jesus, and this is where I believe many get it wrong – their experience may well be a sense of conviction, of “oh, I’m a sinner who needs Jesus” and they may see many around them with similar stories (or testimonies), but I’m living proof that such a position is not vital for coming to Christ, though such conviction becomes more real each and every day you follow him with your blinkers off, for you will conclude that you, like the Apostle Paul, are the worst or ‘the chief of sinners‘! I shall hazard a guess that the majority of such ‘converts through conviction’ have had an upbringing in a church, or at least a Sunday School attendance, and therefore the ‘topic’ of sin is prevalent in their minds.

But don’t just take my word for it; read through the gospels and find all the moments where Jesus’ disciples were called and followed him. Do you read of any ‘conviction’ there? Or did they all just hear his voice and go? If you find any examples against what I’m saying, please comment below, for I cannot recall any.

Grace be with you.

Judaeo-Christianity?

There is a new heresy going around the evangelical community these days! I do not use that word lightly, since I do not like branding people as heretics. However, some people well deserve it since they are clearly deceivers – even when presented with the truth, and shown that what they are saying is clearly false or misguided, they continue to say it. Such people deserve to be ignored completely, if you ask me. Some people may inadvertently promote something they believed was true, but are able to realise their mistake and recant it; thankfully they are in the majority of those who promote untruths (myself included, to be humbly honest). Many more simply have a belief in something that I personally may find untrue, but they are entitled to believe it and we shall agree to differ. The vast majority of these cases are doctrines and opinions that are secondary to salvation. The one I wish to address now is not secondary – it undermines the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Where does it come from? The Religious Right in the USA! How can we discern it? Watch out for the term ‘Judaeo-Christian values’! Yes!

The term Judaeo-Christian is actually a fairly new construct. It only appeared first in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1899. By today’s standards of ‘new words of the year’ and the speed of the spread of new coinages via television and the internet, it seems old, but relative to the history of the English language and what it purports to represent i.e. ‘Judaeo-Christianity’, it’s a pretty young word!

Well, it is me asking the question “where did it come from?”, since nobody else I know seems to be curious! It hinges on another question a friend posed to me recently, which was “why did Billy Graham, a great preacher of the gospel, seek an audience with the Pope?” At first I could not answer it, and it is puzzling to those of us who call ourselves true protestants, since we stand against the false doctrines of Rome. We have no respect for that constructed religion and have stood against it for many centuries (and yes, I know we all fall into the trap of a constructed religion! – another debate!). However, I now see the answer is quite simple. In order to maintain support for their political cause, the Religious Right in the USA have sought conservative bedfellows to bolster their position, and found it in the Roman Catholic church, which has always been ultra-conservative on issues like abortion, homosexuality and ‘family values’ [ha! – from a priesthood that has not one child between them (officially)] – this to the detriment of their religious cause. Therefore they can easily be branded as a political movement and not a religious one, despite their label! They have marked out their priorities in clear signs. What they are to do with the new Pope, Francis, clearly a political radical, remains to be seen in entirety.

They also found support in conservative Judaism, which has led to this heresy I am addressing. The foremost proponent in this vanguard that I can see is John Hagee, a man who has sought an audience with every Israeli Prime Minister in his lifetime, supported Israel against all critics, and gone so far as to say things like “Jesus never claimed he was the Messiah, so the Jews cannot be blamed for killing him!” and “we don’t need to evangelise the Jews, since they have their own way to God.” This is the point at which he crosses over from being a gospel preacher to becoming a quasi-politico campaigner, bent on appeasing his allies at the cost of his stance on gospel truth!

Let me iterate clearly right now, before the Anti-Defamation League calls me an anti-semite; the holocaust against the Jews was undeniable and despicable, we had to stop the Nazis in their anti-Semitic campaign of destruction of a race, and we must help defend the Israeli people against terror. I have the utmost sympathy for the people in Israel who are suffering from the ongoing turmoil between the two states of Israel and Palestine, and I also sympathise with the people of Palestine; unreservedly on both counts.

BUT: there is a heresy going around, and it is that Judaism and Christianity are the same religion! That we worship the same God! This is ludicrous! It shows me just how far we have allowed the Religious Right to take us down their path of falsehood. No more! Stand for the truth, brothers and sisters:

Jesus came to fulfil the law and the prophets (Matt. 5:17).

He stated, as clearly as he possibly could: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.” (John 14:6)

The Jews of his time divided into two camps; those who saw who he was, like all those before them who believed and looked forward to his coming (Luke 2:38), and those who did not see who he was. These same people claimed to be believers and that God was their Father. Jesus told them clearly in a long dialogue in John chapter 8: “If God were your Father, you would love me…” and told them they were not children of God, but of the devil!

Who are you going to listen to? Hagee? or Jesus? If this argument that “they worship the same God as us” is continued, then why not include Muslims? They worship the God of Abraham and Moses!

When I hear of believers attending synagogues, I cringe! What next? Partake of the Mass?

When I hear them quote from the Talmud, the written expression of the faith of the Pharisees that Jesus condemned, that also describes my Lord as a traitor to the faith and wishes a thousand deaths upon him, I start to become judgmental! Please help me to not be.

If you wish to declare support for Israel in your politics, by all means follow your conscience, but don’t let your political belief dilute your faith in the one and only saviour, Jesus Christ. Judaism cannot save anyone!

Grace be with you.