Darkening Our Minds: The Problem of Pornography among Christians

Today is an article I came across that I thought every Christian would benefit from reading. It was original published by the Christian Research Institute. The original article can be found at http://www.equip.org/articles/darkening-our-minds-the-problem-of-pornography-among-christians/

-Rev. Joe Kramer

 

Darkening Our Minds: The Problem of Pornography among Christians

Article ID: JAF1273

By: Joe Dallas

This article first appeared in Christian Research Journal, volume 27, number 03 (2004). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to:http://www.equip.org/christian-research-journal/


SYNOPSIS

Millions of people view pornographic magazines, videotapes, DVDs, and Web sites each month. What appears to be a secular problem, however, is also prevalent among Christians. Because pornography has a dependency that weakens the individual; it causes a disruption of the “one-flesh” union that weakens marriages; and it results in a distortionin thinking that weakens the ability to relate and function.

Bondage to sexual sin is a tyrant that will demand more and more territory. It can be overcome, however, by choosing to take three steps of action: First, truly repent of the sin and separate yourself from it. Second, establish a pattern of discipleship through Bible study and prayer. Third, establish a relationship in which you can be accountable to another believer. By choosing to do battle now, you can avoid a full-scale war later.


“The light of the body is they eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matt. 6:22-23)1

I remember clearly, and with inexpressible regret, the night I walked into an adult bookstore and entangled myself in the use of pornography. I was a 23-year-old former minister at the time, well on my way toward a fully backslidden state, and I was considering whether to indulge in the many sexual sins that I had, at that point, only allowed myself to imagine. That evening in the spring of 1978, my decision was sealed when I embraced what I now call the “dark magic.”

The “magical” qualities of pornography were obvious and immediate. One glance around that roomful of graphic sexual images sent a rush through my system very much like a narcotic response. The longer I gazed, the more intoxicated I became, and over the next few hours the porn brought me temporary escape and exhilaration. I’d found a new drug, and it seemed to work beyond my expectations.

The darker aspects of this newfound magic soon became clear to me. I revisited the same porn shop nightly for the next two weeks. I then spiraled into the use of prostitutes, an affair with a married woman, homosexuality, and a five-year habit of reckless, degrading sexual practices. It began with the use of pornography, a product I continued to consume during my backslidden years, and which I have come to regard much the way an addict regards a drug — a destructive vice I have to strenuously avoid, always remembering its lethal impact on my life.

THE PROBLEM THAT GROWS UNNOTICED

That same lethal impact is being felt on a broader level today as pornography’s availability has reached levels unimaginable 25 years ago. Through cable, videotape and DVD products, and the Internet, virtually anyone wanting to view porn is able to do so with minimal effort. The statistics on porn usage, therefore, while tragic, shouldn’t be surprising:

  • During the single month of January 2002, 27.5 million Internet users visited pornographic Web sites.2
  • Americans spent an estimated $220 million on pornographic Web sites in 2001, according to a New York-based Internet research firm. (The same firm, Jupiter Media Metrix, noted that the $220 million figure was up from $148 million in 1999; Americans are expected to spend $320 million annually on porn sites by the year 2005.)3
  • In a national survey polling 1,031 adults, Zogby International and Focus on the Family found that 20 percent of the respondents had recently visited a pornographic site.4

Every month millions of people stop what they’re doing to look at erotic images and, in most cases, pretend that they are sexually interacting with the women or men on display. It makes St. John’s description of the world — a place dominated by the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes (1 John 2:16)
— chillingly relevant.

What, at first glance, appears to be a secular problem is, in fact, a problem more commonly found among Christians than any of us would care to admit. Over 18 percent of the men polled in the Zogby/Focus survey cited above, for example, identified themselves as Christian believers.The Promise Keepers Men’s Conference conducted an informal poll during its 1996 rally and this poll yielded even more dismal results when one out of three men in attendance admitted they “struggled” with pornography.Finally, the Colorado-based Focus on the Family organization reports that 7 out of 10 pastors who call their toll-free help line claim to be addicted to porn.7

The use of pornography is not restricted to men, either, as is often assumed. Thirty-four percent of the readers of the popular magazine Today’s Christian Woman admitted to the use of Internet pornography,8 and the Zogby/Focus poll indicated one out of every six women surveyed viewed pornography regularly.James P. Draper, president of Life Way Christian Resources, was hardly exaggerating when he stated, “It appears the sin of choice among Christians today is pornography.”10

Considering the prevalence of pornography use among Christians, it’s time we examine the effect it’s having on individuals and families within the church and on our Christian witness in a secular and increasingly sexualized culture.

DEFINING PORNOGRAPHY

Webster defines pornography as “obscene literature or art.” This leaves the term “obscene” open to interpretation since a good deal of socially acceptable material may be obscene to some while artistic to others. The legal definition of obscenity, however, as established by the U. S. Supreme Court in 1973, narrows the term:

1.     While applying contemporary community standards and taken as a whole, it is something that the average person would consider appeals to prurient interest.

2.     The work (or material) depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way as specifically defined by the applicable state law.

3.     The work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, and scientific value.11

By this three-part standard, sexually explicit videotapes, DVDs, magazines, and Web sites qualify as porn. Honesty and common sense will also allow that any visual material used to incite an erotic response, even if the material is not generally considered obscene, becomes a form of pornography to the individual who uses it to that end. For the purposes of this article, however, we’ll use the Supreme Court’s definition as a reference point.

THE LETHAL EFFECTS OF PORNOGRAPHY

The use of pornography, I believe, weakens the church today in three significant ways: First, it creates a dependency on pornography that weakens the individual believer. Second, it causes a disruption of the “one-flesh” union that weakens Christian marriages. Third, it results in a distortion in thinking that weakens a Christian’s ability to relate and function.

A Dependency That Weakens the Individual Believer

The value of personal freedom is an ongoing biblical theme. Adam was created under God’s authority with the freedom to choose, manage, and procreate (Gen. 1:27–30); Israel’s slavery was an evil that God sent Moses to confront and dismantle (Exod. 3–15); Jesus began His public ministry by announcing He had come, among other things, to set captives free (Luke 4:18); and Paul asserted that liberty is what God has called us to, that Christian liberty should be protected, and that bondage is to be avoided (Gal. 5:1, 13). The Judeo-Christian ethic places a high premium on personal freedom and condemns anything that restricts or prohibits a person from reaching his or her God-given potential. If liberty is good, it stands to reason that addiction — a dependence on a certain behavior or experience — is bad; and if something can be shown to be addictive, that in itself becomes a strong argument against it.

There are limits to this argument, to be sure. Most would agree that caffeine is an addictive substance, and yet coffee drinking is generally not frowned on; nor is the use of sugar, which many consider a relatively addictive substance. What distinguishes these substances from cocaine or heroin is the degree to which their use impairs a person’s freedom and productivity.

A woman who drinks three cups of coffee daily, for example, is different than a woman with a thousand-dollar-a-day heroin habit. Both of them may be, in the strictest sense, dependent on their drug of choice, and so their freedom is impaired. The coffee drinker is not, however, in virtually all cases, significantly and functionally impaired by her drug. She can operate on the job, maintain focus and stability, and manage personal responsibilities quite well despite her habit. The heroin user, in contrast, is rendered largely dysfunctional by her drug, will often resort to illegal activities to support her use of it, and is affected by heroin in such a way that it becomes increasingly difficult for her to sustain even the most primary human relationships. Both women are in bondage to some degree, but there’s a huge contrast in the nature of their bondage and in its impact on their general abilities.

The nature of immorality and its impact on a person’s abilities are described in Scripture as “enslaving”: “His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins” (Prov. 5:22). Peter described the false promise of freedom through immorality: “They allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness….While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption; for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage” (2 Pet. 2:18–19).

Bondage to a sexual sin — a growing dependency on the sin, similar to dependency on a drug — often goes unrecognized because addiction to a behavior is a relatively new concept to many people. Most mental health professionals agree that people can become addicted to chemicals. Many of them also recognize the possibility of becoming addicted to an experience. Those who believe in this possibility — myself included — believe addiction to an experience, such as gambling or the use of porn, follows a threefold pattern: thediscovery of a hyperstimulating experience, the repetition of the experience, and an eventual dependence on the experience as a means of functioning or coping.

Discovery, Repetition, Dependence

When pornography is viewed for the first time — discovered, as it were — the viewer experiences a unique rush, accompanied by a strong sexual fantasy. The viewer is not, after all, simply enjoying the sight of another person’s body, potent as that pleasure might be. He is also creating an imaginary bond with the image he’s viewing, enjoying a false but potent connection in which he orchestrates and controls the entire sexual encounter. He has, in short, discovered a powerful and rewarding product, and like any consumer, he will be inclined to repeat its use until he no longer simply enjoys it but becomes dependent on it.

Christian counselor Robert Ellis describes this hyperstimulating experience much as one would describe a narcotic rush: “Use of pornography creates an exotic combination of internal stimulants which cascade through the bloodstream like liquid flesh. They create a sense of relief, excitement, exhilaration or pleasure — when these pleasurable, relieving surges get grooved into association with pornography, the flesh gains control over the spirit and the problem becomes one of addiction. It is not uncommon for pornography to elicit internal surges as addictive as cocaine.”12

This “addictive as cocaine” experience is shared by millions of pornography’s consumers, as evidenced by the National Council on Sexual Addiction Compulsivity, which estimates between six to eight percent of Americans display symptoms of sexual addiction (percentages that translate into 16 to 21 million citizens).13 Indeed, an MSNBC poll showed that in a sampling of 38,000 respondents, one out of every ten persons surveyed indicated they were addicted to sex on the Internet.14

Any form of sexual sin is serious, whether or not the person committing it is “addicted” to the sin or indulging it only on occasion; but when a person becomes dependent on that behavior as a source of comfort or relief, the problem of sin is now accompanied by the problem of bondage. When numerous Christians have come under such bondage, the entire church, like a body with parts that are diseased or crippled, must suffer.

A Disruption That Weakens Christian Marriages

Further problems are created when the use of pornography invades Christian marriages. It will eventually disrupt the unity, both sexual and emotional, that is vitally crucial to stable marital life.

When a group of Pharisees questioned Jesus on the ethics of divorce (Matt. 19:4–6), He articulated a basic standard for the human sexual experience: sexual union is to be heterosexual (“He made them male and female”), independent (“a man shall leave father and mother”), and monogamous (“one flesh”). Paul added that within the sanctity of a monogamous and permanent commitment, husband and wife are to attend to each other’s sexual needs (1 Cor. 7:4–5) and reserve their sexual energies for each other, thus preserving the uniqueness of their bond and avoiding moral transgressions (1 Cor. 7:2).

The benefits of a “one-flesh” union are confirmed elsewhere in Scripture. A cursory look at Old and New Testament figures confirms the wisdom of monogamy and the chaos introduced by infidelity, polygamy, or loss of sexual control, all of which play key roles in some of the Bible’s greatest tragedies. Witness the bitter rivalry between Abraham’s wife and her maid and the painful repercussions that result, the foolish loss of judgment that came with Herod’s sexual obsession with his stepdaughter, the death of a child and permanent family curse caused by David’s adultery, and the spiritual decline of Solomon’s faith because of his appetite for foreign women. A fundamental lesson emerges: The one-flesh union provides psychological safety to individuals, stabilizes the family, and enhances productivity and order within the community.

Jesus further clarified the concept of the one-flesh union when He declared that adultery is not limited to actions but can also occur in the heart: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt. 5:27–28). Pornography, which necessitates lusting after strangers, accordingly disrupts the one-flesh union, depriving husband and wife of the very benefits the Bible promises to those who remain monogamous.

In concurrence with the Bible, a growing number of secular theorists are also celebrating the wisdom of monogamous commitment. Studies show that it enhances the life span of men and women who practice it15 and that the quality of life improves in proportion to the practice of fidelity. Drug and alcohol abuse dropped significantly among married test subjects in a University of Chicago study, and monogamous individuals made more money, had twice as much sex as their nonmonogamous counterparts, and experienced half the domestic violence of those studied who either lived together unmarried or lived alone.16

In light of this, pornography is shown to be especially crippling to marriages, as it damages the ability of its users to maintain an ongoing, committed union. The claim that it is a harmless product and practice belies the biblical and secular evidence that it violates the one-flesh standard. The man using pornography violates this standard, whether he is married or single. If he is single, he violates it by engaging in random sexual fantasies with the innumerable women he views in magazines or pornographic Web sites. He is, in essence, attempting to enjoy the ecstasy of sexual union without any of its commitments or responsibilities and thus creates a false, temporal bond with phantoms. Since a one-flesh union is both authentic and exclusive, he is falling far short of the biblical standard.

When a married man uses porn, he violates the Matthew 5 standard as well: the sexual energy he has pledged to reserve for his wife is now being invested into his private fantasies. He is, in essence, embezzling from his spouse what is rightfully hers, and is instead spending it irresponsibly, much as a gambler steals funds from his employer to support his habit. What properly belongs to one person is thus stolen, making the term “cheating” all the more applicable.

Secular studies confirm the crippling effect of pornography on a person’s ability to maintain a monogamous bond. Researchers Dolf Zimmerman and Jennings Bryant, for example, noted that continued exposure to pornography increased its user’s desires for sexual contacts and behaviors outside their marriages,17 and author Diana Russell found that pornography leads men and women to experience conflict, suffering, and sexual dissatisfaction.18

Common sense would lead to the same conclusion. Each of us contains a limited amount of sexual/emotional energy, which will either be reserved for a monogamous bond or spent elsewhere. Our ability to sustain a bond with one partner cannot help but be impacted by the level of energy we’ve reserved for that partnership.

As a counselor, I see this principle played out repeatedly. When a husband engages in the use of pornography, his wife almost always notices a certain detachment on his part: less time, less sexual interaction, less attention. She suffers; he embezzles; everyone loses. Pornography systematically weakens marriages within the body of Christ, for it disrupts the bonds crucial to a healthy marriage.

A Distortion That Darkens the Christian Mind

The eye is indeed the lamp of the body (Matt. 6:22–23). If a person’s eye is perpetually exposed to darkness, there comes an inevitable distortion in that person’s thinking. It is in this darkening of the mind that pornography makes its leap from an act that is morally repugnant to one that has frightening consequences. “Evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Cor. 15:33), Paul warned, and the impact on the mind of a Christian consistently exposed to the wrong types of communication is immeasurable.

Zimmerman and Bryant, for example, found that continued exposure to pornography affected a male viewer’s basic beliefs about sexuality in general and women in particular.19They likewise noted that exposure to porn increased its viewers’ desires for deviant behaviors, such as sado-masochism, and also desensitized their attitudes toward rape. Psychologist Edward Donnerstein of the University of Wisconsin came to similar conclusions, noting that even brief exposure to violent forms of pornography led to antisocial attitude and behavior.20 Clinical psychologist Victor Kline concurs, noting that men who consume pornography on a regular basis experienced increased aggression in attitude and behavior, noticed an increase in “rape fantasies,” and felt increased indifference toward women in general.21

Like any drug, pornography’s effects vary according to the general health of the individual who uses it. In other words, while a person will be adversely affected by using an illegal drug, the specific effect will probably vary from person to person. A person already predisposed toward violence may well become more violent when intoxicated; a person more inclined to depression may find himself acutely suicidal when under the influence. Similarly, not every porn user becomes a rapist or sexual deviant, but there can be no question of its adverse effects on the user’s thinking.

I can testify to this first hand, both as a former user of pornography and as a counselor. Having discovered the “dark magic,” I found myself increasingly withdrawn from genuine interpersonal relationships and more isolated, defensive, and detached. Accustomed to the false world of phantom relations, I found real relations less and less tolerable. I also developed a callousness toward women, which I repeatedly see in my clients. They existed for me — I visually used them daily via magazines and videos; I controlled them in my fantasy world; and I became less tolerant of any defects in real women as I spent more time in the company of unreal, though perfect, images of women. I had discovered a world in which both I and all around me would be perfect. In the shadowlands of pornographic imagery, people existed for my pleasure, and I existed to rule and indulge. In short, I had adopted a mindset so far away from the mind of Christ that I decided to usurp His authority for my own, thus completing the darkening of my mind.

C. S. Lewis alluded to this self-idolatry when he described the world of sexual fantasy as being “a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against a man ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attributes which no real woman can rival. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself.”22

PIERCING THE DARKNESS

When a person is angry enough, scared enough, or frustrated enough, that person will take action. So it is with pornography. If you recognize its impact on your life, and you are sufficiently concerned to take action, that is the beginning of true change.

The journey away from pornography, like the journey away from sexual sin in general, is so simple it escapes many people. It can be reduced to three simple principles: repentance, discipleship, and accountability.

Repentance: Reject the behavior by separating yourself from it. If you have not separated yourself from it, you haven’t repented. In practical terms, that may mean purchasing a filtering device (or switching to an Internet service provider that prohibits pornographic material from coming through), or doing away with the Internet altogether. It may mean discontinuing the cable service on your television. In short, do whatever is necessary to separate yourself from the behavior on which you’ve become dependent.

Discipleship: Establish yourself in the daily discipline of prayer and Bible study. If you do not have a regular devotional life, begin now by naming a book of the Bible you can begin reading today. If you haven’t read the Bible before, or you’ve been out of the habit for a while, let me suggest the following books, and read them in this order to get you started: the Gospel of John, Romans, Ephesians, James, and Proverbs. Follow up these daily readings with a time of prayer, following the model of prayer Christ taught in Matthew 6:9–13. Prayer and the reading of Scripture are requirements for anyone wanting to renew his or her mind; they will diffuse the power of deeply ingrained sexual images.

Accountability: Start a relationship with at least one believer who knows about your use of pornography. Have this person ask you, on a weekly basis, whether you’ve repeated this behavior and how well you’ve resisted the temptations to repeat it. Remember, sexual sin thrives in the dark. A large part of recovery from it lies in your willingness to keep your private behavior in the light of another believer’s scrutiny and prayers. This, like the daily discipline of prayer and Scripture reading, is required if you’re serious about your repentance.

A BATTLE WORTH FIGHTING

After the English Parliament’s 1938 appeasement in Czechoslovakia, Winston Churchill saw the danger of choosing peace when honor and common sense called for battle. “You have been given the choice between war and dishonor,” he said. “You have chosen dishonor, and you will have war!” History, of course, would confirm his prophetic warning: refusing to fight an honorable battle may afford a temporary peace, but in the long run it’s too costly. Delaying a necessary battle may well result in a devastating, full-scale war.

Every person who has become involved in sexual sin makes a decision between battle and dishonor. As always, dishonor looks like an easier choice. Dishonor means making peace with your sin. It means telling yourself that after so many years, it’s become such a part of your life that trying to cut it out would be too traumatic and too uncomfortable. It would mean saying goodbye to a reliable (though destructive) friend, and the battle to abstain from this “friend,” with all the temptations and struggles it would involve, seems too demanding, so a dishonorable compromise is therefore reached when a person decides to live in peaceful coexistence with his (or her) sexual sin.

Tyrants, however, never coexist peacefully; by their nature, they demand increased territory, fewer limitations, and more captives. The sin a person decides not to go to war against soon demands more territory. It begins invading career, family, health, and reputation. Now the person finds that what could have been a brief skirmish, if it had been attended to earlier, has become full-blown war. He chose dishonor over battle. In the end, he winds up with both.

If your mind has become a battlefield — darkened by the use of pornography, which has distorted your basic attitudes toward life — you have already yielded a good deal of territory, and your willingness to concede it has already cost a terrible price to you, your loved ones, and the church. God grant that today you find yourself ready to abandon the dark and see again how wonderful the true light can be.


NOTES

  1. All Bible quotations are from the King James Version unless otherwise noted.
  2. Marilyn Elias, “Cybersex Follows Mars, Venus Patterns,” USA Today, February 26, 2002.
  3. Ibid.
  4. “Zogby/Focus Survey Reveals Shocking Internet Sex Statistics,” Legal Facts (Family Research Council), vol. 2, no. 3, March 30, 2000, cited in National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families Web site, “Current Statistics,” http://php.eos.net/nationalcoalition/stat.phtml?ID=53.
  5. Ibid.
  6. “Pornography among Christians?” Los Angeles Times, March 30, 2001.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ramona Richards, “Dirty Little Secret,” ChristianityToday.com, http://www.christianitytoday.com/tcw/ 2003/005/5.58.html.
  9. Zogby.
  10. James P. Draper, quoted in Tim Wilkins, “First Person: How to Surf the Internet and Avoid Wiping Out to Porn,” Baptist Press News, October 30, 2003.
  11. Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973).
  12. Robert Ellis, “The Chemical Science of Pornography,” AFA Online, http://www.afa.net/pornography/re011303.asp.
  13. Alvin Cooper, et al., “Online Sexual Compulsivity: Getting Tangled in the Net,” Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity 6, 2 (1999): 79–104.
  14. Linda Carroll, “Addicted to Online Porn,” June 27, 2000, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3078769/.
  15. Christina Hoff Sommers, The War against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000), http://www.andtheylivedhappilyeverafter.com/ 48.htm.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Dolf Zimmerman and Jennings Bryant, “Pornography, Sexual Callousness, and the Trivialization of Rape,” cited in “The Documented Effects of Pornography,” The Forerunner, http://www.forerunner.com/forerunner/X0388_Effects_of_Pornograp.html.
  18. Diana Russell, “Rape and Marriage,” cited in “The Documented Effects of Pornography.”
  19. Zimmerman and Bryant.
  20. Edward Donnerstein, “Pornography and Violence against Women,” cited in “The Documented Effects of Pornography.”
  21. Victor Kline, “The Effects of Pornography,” C.A.S.E, http://www.c-a-s-e.net/The Effects of Porn.htm.
  22. C. S. Lewis, quoted in Laurie Hall, An Affair of the Mind (Colorado Springs, CO: Focus on the Family, 1998), 111.
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The Heresies of Balaamism and the Nicolaitans are Alive Today

The Heresies of Balaamism and the Nicolaitans are Alive Today
By: Rev. Joe Kramer

(5) Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. (6) But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
-Revelation 2:5-6 (HCSB)

We find that in the book of Revelation churches were being rebuked for their stance on the Nicolaitans. But what did the Nicolaitans teach that was so bad? While today article will not be a long one it will be an enlightening one, a nugget of truth. You see their teachings still exist today and are very prevalent.

Our culture has become one of permissiveness, and it has crept into our churches. We no longer consider it proper and right to stand for moral fortitude. No, we don’t even address issues of living together and sinning anymore (not all churches, but quite a few). I can name a few churches who won’t say that abortion is wrong, or that it is right; they will just overlook it. Many churches don’t even address people who call themselves Christians but are living together, unmarried. While I am not a legalist (by any stretch of the imagination) these basic issues should be addressed from pulpits across America. What has happened to the church?

The church has fallen into the errors balaamism and that of the Nicolaitans. According to M.R.DeHaan in his book “Studies in Revelation” he states that these two errors go together. Balaamism is the rise of permissiveness. But how did that happen? Because of the error of the Nicolaitans. The Nicolaitans brought about a kind of hierarchical clergy which brings about a disconnect between the people and those called to minister to God’s people. Unfortunately the Nicolaitans wanted to have power and the way they grabbed that power was to make people religious slaves. They became dictators over people’s lives instead of shepherds. They lusted for power and it is because of their line of thinking that we get the rise of the clergy in the “middle ages.”

But do we see this today? Unfortunately, yes. When a minister becomes a dictator they are falling into this trap. When they must control people and use them up and then throw them away and make it seem like it is the persons fault as to why they were thrown away. These kinds of ministers will make it seem like the person who left is at fault, when in reality the fact is that maybe the person did do something wrong, but they were being used and abused by a dictator. Far too often though, it is the minister who is at fault, not the person who got used. (I know this is simplistic and there are usually many more factors, but it is to make a point. keep in mind usually both parties are to blame, at least somewhat). The point is, should the minister be a dictator or should they be someone who restores people in a loving way?

Usually where you see a dictatorship you will see people who are the “eleet” in the church. They will get their obvious sins overlooked, while others will be punished harshly and persecuted. This leads to permissiveness not only among the people, but among the leadership as well. I commend churches who have checks and balances for these kinds of ministers so they don’t get to the point of being a dictator. It is amazing to me that some churches allow that to happen. Sadly, though, this has become a sad reality for many churches across the world.

While I know this isn’t a kind message today, it is one to think about because the church of Ephesus fell into this trap, and God didn’t like it then and He doesn’t like it today.

So what do we do for churches that are like this? Do we cause division or strife? Do we overthrow the pastor? The answer is a resounding NO! We pray for the pastors and take our grievances to the church board/deacons/elders. Don’t gossip about it, but let the structure of the church look into it. So what happens if it doesn’t stop? What happens if the ones in charge are just a bunch of “yes men.” Then you do as David did. Leave that church alone and run for your spiritual life and let God sort it out. Don’t split the church, don’t do anything but find the place where God is trying to lead you. I know that is hard but God hates Division (c.f. 1 Timothy 1).

Now may the Lord keep you and bless you. May He make His face to shine upon you, and show you Peace. Amen.

True Christians Talk and Walk With God

True Christians Talk and Walk With God
By: Rev. Joe Kramer

(4) John,
To the seven churches in the province of Asia:
Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, (5) and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, (6) and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father —to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
-Revelation 1:4-6

Today we aren’t going to spend a lot of time, nor are we going to go in-depth in the study of the book of Revelation. No, today is just some casual thoughts about our position in Christ.

First we look at who the author is, John the Apostle. He wrote this book and he was called the disciple whom Jesus loved. He was close to the Lord and was the only disciple to be present at his crucifixion. Jesus charged him to look after his mother after he had died and ascended into heaven. He could have opened this book (verse 4) with scathing rebukes to the churches (Because of what God showed him about each of their failures that come later in the book.) but he doesn’t. How does he open it? He says grace and peace to you from God. WOW! that shows love for sure!

The one thing in verse four that people don’t get is he says it is from the seven spirits before his throne. Now many people have offered an explanation. The most prominent two theories is that it is the seven facets of the Holy Spirit (c.f. Isaiah 11:2) others believe it to be the archangels. Personally believe it to be the Archangel because of the wording that is used here in this verse.

Now why is verse five there? To remind us of who Christ is and who we are in Him. Jesus is called a faithful witness. This means what He told us is true and we can take that all the way to the bank. Jesus is the first born from the dead. This reminds us that because of His death and resurrection, we too (if we are Christians) will rise from the dead in glorified bodies. Jesus will be the ruler of the earth during his one-thousand year reign and for all eternity. It says that He loves us and has freed us from the power of sin because of what He did on the cross and his subsequent rise from the grace and ascension into heaven. By His shedding of blood we are made right with a Holy and loving God. This is GOOD NEWS INDEED. If you don’t get excited by that then maybe you need to make sure you are in a “right” relationship with God.

In verse six we are told even more good news. We are called priests to serve God. You see only the priests could communicate and offer sacrifice for the people to God. Only the high priest could actually enter the dwelling place to offer sacrifice and then only once a year; but now John says we have access to God for ourselves thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice! I find it amazing that a powerful and loving ruler of all creation wants to speak and commune with me! don’ you?

This is good news! When was the last time you spoke to your loving father? When was the last time you went before a Holy God? We take this for granted too often, and it need to stop. You have been given access. why not use it? The choice is yours.

Perverse Teaching is in The Church Because Christians Don’t Care Enough

Perverse Teaching is in The Church Because Christians Don’t Care Enough
By: Rev. Joe Kramer

(7) Many deceivers have gone out into the world; they do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. (8) Watch yourselves so you don’t lose what we have worked for, but that you may receive a full reward. (9) Anyone who does not remain in Christ’s teaching but goes beyond it, does not have God. The one who remains in that teaching, this one has both the Father and the Son. (10) If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your home, and don’t say, “Welcome,” to him; (11) for the one who says, “Welcome,” to him shares in his evil works
-2 John 7-11 (HCSB)

(3) Dear friends, although I was eager to write you about the salvation we share, I found it necessary to write and exhort you to contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all. (4) For some men, who were designated for this judgment long ago, have come in by stealth; they are ungodly, turning the grace of our God into promiscuity and denying Jesus Christ, our only Master and Lord.
-Jude 3-4 (HCSB)

 

Christians need to get back to studying God’s Word and learning what it says so they can stay out of false teaching. Doing this will help to keep people from getting duped and leaving the church.

In verse seven of second-John, he states that many people have gone out into the church who aren’t really Christians (or those whom have corrupted Christianity).He states that these people do not confess that Jesus actually came to us in the flesh but who have come to us in some other way. But we don’t have to worry about that right? WRONG! There are many “ministers” today who deny the 100% humanity of Christ and the %100 divinity of Christ (i.e. The Dichotomy of Christ). They make Him out to be fully human or fully God. To do either is to deny what makes Jesus who He is. Another teaching some will use is to deny the Trinity of God (Please do research on this, we aren’t going into it here as I have previously written about it. See the Apologetics articles section). This is evil teaching and does lead people astray from the truth.

Verse eight is a reminder to the reader to always be on guard against false teaching. The loss here is not talking about salvation but that of reward in heaven. In other words, make sure that you don’t fall into false teaching so that you don’t lose rewards in heaven for your faith. The JFB Commentary says the following about this verse.

  • …Fully consummated glory. If “which ye have wrought” be read with very old authorities, the reward meant is that of their “work (of faith) and labor of love.” There are degrees of heavenly reward proportioned to the degrees of capability of receiving heavenly blessedness. Each vessel of glory hanging on Jesus shall be fully happy. But the larger the vessel, the greater will be its capacity for receiving heavenly bliss…

Verse nine talks about the people who go beyond the simple grace that is given to us by Christ. These people, if they go beyond the Bible, are not teaching God’s Word properly. They do this by either malicious intent or because they don’t know any better. A person who doesn’t know any better will be presented with the truth, eventually. If they continue in their false teaching (usually because of their stubbornness, because they have wasted a portion of their life and mind on falsity) then they teach these things willingly out of rebellion against God.

In verse ten we are told to have nothing to do with these false teachers. The greeting here is not talking about a simple greeting but that of someone who is shown full hospitality, because in so doing they are endorsing their teaching. We are strongly warned against inviting these teachers in our midst because they will lead others astray and corrupt the minds of people; adding to grace and removing the simplicity of the message of Christ.

In Jude in verses three through four, he gives the same warning and says that we should be ready with answers to these false teachings. We should earnestly know what we believe and be ready to express it, coming against false teaching. He says that these false teachers have come into the church stealthily, mixing faith with error so that it looks good, but the end result is death. Verse four introduces us to something else we haven’t covered. Some were taking the grace of God to mean they could sin and do whatever they want and still be good-to-go(we still see this one a lot today in churches). This is falsity because if someone is truly “saved” then they won’t want to do the works of the flesh anymore, they may stumble but they don’t make it their lifestyle.

We must be discerning to recognize false teaching and we can’t do that unless we are constantly in the Word of God. We must constantly test teaching to see where it comes from, to see if it is error.

How about you today? Are you studying God’s Word to make sure you haven’t fallen into false teaching? Are where you should be in your relationship with God and His Word so you can have discernment? Are you constantly testing things and making sure they are correct? If not then maybe it is time to repent and time to start doing so. The choice is yours.

Grow UP!

Grow UP!
By: Pastor Josh Ryan

It was three in the morning Sunday night I had been in total agony for 11 hours. Nothing worked to take away the continuous headache and pain in my mouth from a tooth that needed a root canal two months ago.

Background to pain
I went to a new dentist to look at a tooth that was hurting, he looked at it and did not have the guts to tell me that it needed a root canal. So he decided instead to do a short term painful experiment on me to see how long I could suffer before I came back in for him to tell me I needed one. Not that I am bitter at this dentist, this lack of responsibility of my dentist lead me to this moment of pain in my mouth that lasted 11 hours. I have had two knee surgeries in my life and nothing hurt as bad as this tooth.

In that moment of suffering, I remembered what I had just preached on Wednesday night at church, Psalms 34:1 David worshiped God in all times. Not just in the good times but in the bad times of life as well.

 

Background on Psalms 34:1. 

David had just escaped the wicked King of the Philistines after being so desperate to go into their land for refuge from Saul. While hiding he got caught and was taken to the philistine king who would have killed him, but David acted crazy and they felt sorry for him and they released him. This had to be frustrating because David was so desperate he was willing to go into the land of his enemies to find safety. After running from Saul, getting caught by the Philistines, having to act like a mentally handicapped individual, finally escaping again, David writes this Psalm 34 passage. In all times I will sing praise to you LORD. This is a powerful Psalm read it when you get time. The context alone adds much meaning and power.

 

Back to the tooth night.
In that moment, I said, Jesus I want to praise you, in this horrible time of pain and hurt. Thank you God for loving me and being the best Lord of my life. I wish I could say that praising God took away my pain instantly. That was not the point, in that moment I felt God building in me character to serve him in all seasons. I for the first time, felt the praise of joy in the bad times of suffering. It was one of the most powerful praises I have ever felt in all my life. This was quite frankly, one of the most powerful moments in all my life. In that moment of my suffering I felt the pleasant smile of God in Heaven saying well done my good and faithful servant. Why? Because this big baby decided to grow up and serve God even in the sufferings of life. God was allowing me to go through pain so that through that suffering I could bring Glory to His NAME! Now do not get me wrong I believe in prayer and healing, Do not get over spiritual on me here!

For once in my life, in the midst of the trials and difficulty I decided I was not going to be moved to the realm of questioning God. You have to understand I struggled with this. I had often had issues of blaming God or getting mad at God for stuff going on. Finally, I looked at my life and saw this problem, and asked myself when will I quite blaming God for everything and just start praising God for everything. In that moment, I made a covenant with God that I was going to do the best I could not to blame God but to praise God for all things in all times(The good, the bad, and the ugly). Paul while in chains for serving God, thanked God for his suffering because he was worthy enough to be able to suffer for Christ! Lord I am not there yet, but create in me a mature heart where I can continuously praise you in all seasons. I want to bring smiles of joy on your face, for being a faithful servant. Grow me now I pray Amen.

With that being said, the reason why there are so many seasoned fan Christians in the church (only serving in good times) is the truth that to many ministers are unwilling to express, that God is worthy in good and bad times. Ministers paint a popular image that God is only there in the good times, and if you are in a bad time God is not there because he does not believe in bad times, it’s the devil! This false truth on reality causes Christians to question God instead of giving him praise because often one finds in the mystery of life bad times.

In reality ministers need to show that He is there in all times so that we can learn to be faithful to HIM! For I am convinced that the bad times are a gift from God, not to destroy us but to give us the opportunity to show Him that we truly love HIM! Will we grow up and show how much love we have for him.

Let us grow in maturity and love God like never before, and then the power of a true message will transform the world, because nothing can destroy us, the good times or the bad times. These are the opportune times for us to love GOD! This will be the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ! In our sufferings we bring Glory to HIS NAME! Let us grow up! AMEN.

God is SO Good!

Today’s Positive Though
By: Rev. Joe Kramer

“Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
-Luke 12:7 (NIV 1984)

Well, I was at a call for work on Friday and the older couple (in their 90s) asked me if I knew Jesus. I replied yes! They then proceeded to pray over me and for me! It was completely fantastic. We don’t rely on Holy Goose Bumps, but they are nice when they come, and man oh man did God move fantastically. I really needed that in my life.

Just remember that God know where you are and He knows who your are and will take care of you! May God Bless you in all that you do.

Poverty and Religiosity as Bridges to Other Faiths

Poverty and Religiosity as Bridges to Other Faiths
By:
Rev. Joe Kramer
Bruce Martin
Lillie Pickens
Walter Powell
Steven Randall

[About a year ago I helped to co-author a journal article and I think it is relevant in the fact that it can help us to get a grasp on what fulfilling  the “Great Commission.” I hope you enjoy it. – Rev. Joe Kramer]

Matthew 28:19-20 says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” This passage is often called the great commission. But what does it look like? What challenges and what wisdom can we draw from the scriptures as it relates to the global Southern Churches? This essay will look at four distinct areas that will be able to help in attempting to answer these questions. They are Intense Social Stratification, Omnipresence of Poverty, The Transience of Life, and Philosophical Detachment.

Intense Social Stratification

Social stratification is the tendency of humans to create hierarchies among groups of people, based on factors such as race, religion or financial status. The nature of these hierarchies varies from society to society, and there is a tendency toward conflict between the groups, as they vie for scarce resources, which are usually allocated to the majority group. People in the majority groups are more likely to be, in this day and age, tourists or others who are free to move about as they wish due to their financial resources, while the minority groups are either immobile or forced to move. In addition, persons in the lower strata of society are more likely to live close to areas with disease vectors, such as swine or bird flu, and do not have the advantages of vaccine or resources to combat diseases (Ritzer, 2010).

There are biblical passages which have become the focus of many Christians who are victimized by social stratification in the global South, offering a different outlook on their disadvantaged position, and help with positivity, hope and encouragement. James states: “The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower” (1:9-10, New International Version). Further, it states: “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” (James 2:5). Christians who are able to understand their position on earth as a blessing in the eyes of God are likely to be able to evangelize successfully amongst the disadvantaged from other religious communities who do not have these teachings to help strengthen them in their daily struggles.

The global South continues to experience rapid social change as foreign interests invade long-standing economies and at times are destructive to cultural norms and ideals. People who seek to change their social standing may be tempted to join in the change, but most continue to be victims of their society’s uneven wealth distribution. Ecclesiastes is a book which is useful for Christians who are attempting to reach across cultures in a manner that is helpful to those who are disadvantaged due to their social standing, teaching how the gathering of riches is more of a burden than a help: “To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:26).

This book represents to many the burden of the rich and how attempting to maintain the norm of society is a useless waste of time, as death ends this struggle and whatever has been accumulated is thereafter owned by somebody else (Jenkins, 2006).

The Book of Proverbs also helps those who are victims of society’s hierarchies. It provides a common sense approach to life, with a simple and easily understood good and evil: “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (14:31). The Book of Proverbs is likened to the oral traditions of Africans, and this helps with finding relevance in Christianity. The concerns found in Proverbs are part of the human existence in societies of the global South and can contain alternative theological presentations which expand traditional Old Testament theologies to meet some of the challenges experienced by these individuals (Kimilike, 2008).

 

Omnipresence of Poverty

As we move forward, Christianity has been viewed as a poor man’s religion.  Is this the way of life God intended for His group of believers?  In understanding who God is, He represents everything that is opposite of the world though the presence of poverty seems to be a hard pill to swallow for most Christians, and even harder for those who are witnessed outside of Christianity, because they see with the physical eyes and not the heart.  The presence of poverty is a persistent bug that in some cases prevents the conversion of new believers.  While the average Christian in the world is a poor person by the standards of the white world of North America and Western Europe (Jenkins, 2006), the global south through Scripture still maintains a faith of prosperity and wealth.

In the book of James he seeks to respect the poor and impoverished group by them like the rich and wealthy (James 2:1-6).  When one is poor, poverty is there and standing around the corner eagerly waiting is oppression.  As a whole it is hard for American Christians to grasp the real meaning behind Scripture in its entirety as poverty is not something that plagues the global North in the same way that it plagues the global South forfeiting the relevance of God’s Word (Jenkins, 2006).

Within the wisdom literatures of the Old Testament, King Solomon states “the poor is hated by his neighbor.  But those who love the rich are many” (Prov. 14:20).  From the kingship, how could Solomon understand the poor?  He never waddled in such an oppressive state.  Only the second part of the verse would seem to be a liberating fact for the wealthy.  Again, Solomon ponders over the advancements in life and how it is meaningless when it comes to the poor and the rich.  “Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to take warning” (Eccl. 4:13).  Better to be a country that is engulfed in poverty that heeds the warnings of the Lord than a prosperous one who abides by its own law with disregard of Scripture—this is the fundamentalism of the global South versus the liberal views of the North America and Western European churches.

The Bible is the Word of God that should alleviate ways not to live.  However, the liberal approach tends to bend Scripture to incoherent measures of society.  The presence of poverty is consistent in the lives of Christians which unknowingly makes it the focal point for the nonbelievers which in return tend to dilute the true efforts of Christianity which is to spread the gospel and present salvation.

 

The Transience of Life

The Biblical Wisdom literature covers a variety of situations in life like attitudes, our way of life, motivational Scriptures, and Scriptures with promise. It also covers the results of bad attitudes and disobedience to the parents and diseases. In this paper on the transience of life in the global south, it relates the beginning of Christianity, situations; the instability of Christianity, but at the same time can help reach out to others people of different faiths.

Transience of life is a state or quality of life, and how fleeting it is. As human beings we are subject to metabolic and reproductive changes, as well as, having the power to adapt to our environment through changes that originate internally. It is also the passing with times, or being ephemeral, and is therefore a time which is temporary or is short lived (dictionary.com).

In the beginning, Christianity was in the eastern countries, and had great centers, impressive churches, and Monasteries, located in Syria, Palestine, and Mesopotamia. However, division occurred and the council of Nicene in 325 A.D. declared the doctrine of Christ’s divinity. Then over the centuries, the mainstream churches became divided over the person of Christ. The Catholic or Orthodox triumph in the Roman Empire saying Christ had two natures (2008).

Nestorius and his followers accepted the two natures, but did not believe the Virgin Mary should be called the mother of God, so they were cast out at Ephesus in 431 A.D. The Easterners and Egyptians said there was only one nature for Christ, and the divine was more powerful than the human, and became known as Monophysites (Copts or Coptic), but in 451 A.D. the Ecumenical council at Chalcedon declared they were heretical. This left the Orthodox in command of the empire, and the mainstream church. The next two centuries those newly defined as heretics were excluded and persecuted (Jenkins, 2008).

African and Asian alone would have outnumbered the Orthodox, but overtime some of the religions died, while other faiths are few in numbers. Manichaean’s once had adherents from France to China, but no longer exists in any organized or functional form, nor is the faith that was once in Mexico and Central America five hundred years ago. Christianity on several occasions was destroyed in regions that once flourished (Jenkins, 2008).

The changes today in the Global South, tells us Christians are once again under persecution and torture, and many are dying for who they believe in, but many are also accepting the gospel. The churches are operating, whether it is a Church house or an underground church, or government approved church. The African, Asians and the Latin American churches are growing in spite of persecution and there is a few who enforce the laws mentioned by Paul (McAlister, 2011).

There are a few Christians whose African and Asian leaders have denounced the U.S. churches, for abandoning the principles of the Bible, but at the same time are immersed in traditions that are also against the written Word. The same people are under severe distress of sicknesses and diseases that are wiping them out. Large tsunamis are known to kill thousands, but those that die daily in Africa of HIV, hunger, and malaria, is of no concern. There are many dying in wars, landslides, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions; some still do not accept Christ as their Savior (Jenkins, 2006).

In conclusion, the transient of life is happening over and over again, but the situation continues. Each time the people are reminded of their roots. Transient of life is brief, and only for a little time. These churches are more culturally diverse in the global south than it is in the North or West.

 

Philosophical Detachment

Jenkins discusses specific ways in which poverty and religion are combined to ultimately become the essential bridges that allow connectivity and communication between other faiths or non-Christian beliefs and conservative- believing Christians of the global south. Two parallels may readily be drawn; first, the people are almost all poor and second, all of them apparently exercise some loyalty to their religious experience. Simply, since all people of this region experience the same or a similar social economy, it is only reasonable to assume that their religious practice, although different, should seek to address the issues regarding comfort and relief. Kent sees the Books of Wisdom as a particular bridge that assists in reducing the differences that separate these people because these books address a common sitz en leben or setting in life experience of the people living in these areas.

With respect to philosophical detachment, Jenkins notes that the Book of James “praises detachment and self-control” [Jenkins, 2006, P 88]. Knowing the philosophy of  what detachment essentially means conveys much understanding as to why he argues this book to be a “catholic or universal epistle”[ibid 88].  Detachment literally means “non-attachment or the state in which a person overcomes his or her attachment to things, people or concepts of the world and thus attains a heightened perspective” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Detachment].  This characterization or goal is commonly the chief goal of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Jainism, and others; they all share this common theme. After quickly reviewing the structure of James, one not only better sees their commonality and is able to better comprehend why James has been so widely adopted in the global south by these diverse groups.  Six divisions; trials and true religion, 1:2-27;partiality and vital faith, 2:1-26;speech and divine wisdom,3:1-12;conflict and submission,4:1-17; money and patient endurance, 5:1-8 and the way back to living by faith, 5:19-20 address the two common bonds of focus; poverty and sincere religious devotion [Constable, 2009, P2]. Jenkins further states additional reasons such as; James “contains little that would offend Muslims”; “it offers common ground for interreligious dialogue” [Jenkins, 2006, P 88]. More importantly, he concludes, “James makes it clear that evil stems from within the individual…that misdirected passions and desires must be combatted, and finally that intemperate speech gives rise to many conflicts. [ibid, P 88]. Thus, James, fulfills its purpose to “encourage those to whom it is addressed to bear their trials patiently, and on the other hand to warn them against certain errors of doctrine and practice” [Constable, 2009, P2]. In this manner, certainly a bridge is erected to connect both the gap that segregates religious diversity and their common theme to comfort an impoverished people.

If the global Southern churches keep this in mind and continue to seek God’s wisdom they can make disciples out of the other religions. Will it be easy? Absolutely not, but it is going to be something they must do with trepidation, wisdom from God’s word and prayer. As they labor in humility and wisdom God will give them the increase of disciples they seek.

 

 

References

Constable, T. L. (2008). Notes on James. : .

Dictionary.com unabridged (n.d.). Transience. Retrieved September 20, 2011, from dictionary.reference.com/browse/transience

Jenkins, P. (2006). The New Faces of Christianity: Believing in the Bible in the Global South. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Jenkins, P. (2008). The lost history of Christianity (1 ed.). NewYork, NY: Harper-Collins Publishers.

Kimilike, P. L. (2008). Poverty in the Book of Proverbs: An African Transfomational Hermeneutic of Proverbs on Poverty. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc..

McAlister, M. (2011). Human Rights: Politics of Persecution. Washington, DC: Middle East Research.

Ritzer, G. (2010). Globalization: A Basice Text.. West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons.

Wikipedia (n.d.). Detachment. Retrieved October 8, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Detachment