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

 

The Church is Decaying From The Inside – Obstacles Facing The Church

Christian, Thou Art Decaying!
By: Rev. Joe Kramer

 I wanted to talk a little bit about how Christianity has NOT been a good steward of what God has given. If we want a culture that honors God, then we need to honor God in Christianity. This is a tremendous challenge facing churches today.

Through wisdom is an house builded; and by understanding it is established: And by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches.
-Proverbs 24:3-4

Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it. Say not unto thy neighbour, Go, and come again, and to morrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee.
-Proverbs 3:27-28

Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.
-1 Corinthians 4:2

This country was founded on freedom to worship God! I don’t care what people say, that is the truth. Because we decided to found this country on Biblical principles God has blessed it tremendously. Unfortunately not everyone agreed and they began to change this country in a way that kicked God out of every area of life! So this mighty institution called the Church said to itself that this will pass and they did nothing. Prayer was ripped out of schools, and the Ten Commandments were ripped out of culture what did the church do? The Church did NOTHING!

So now when we look at our culture and we see one of the most decadent and decaying cultures around. I am talking within the Church not just in the “world”. We no longer see God at the center of anything in the culture and this has spread over into the Church. You know what the sad part is? It is not that the Church just did nothing about it, no they did something worse. The Church has decided to adopt the values of the world (known as syncretism). What? Yes the Church has! Christians today don’t worship God in Spirit and IN TRUTH. Christians today can’t tell you about the Second Book of Hezekiah! Wait did I just write Hezekiah? Yes I did! I wonder how many of the “Christians” reading this didn’t even know that there is NO Second Book of Hezekiah! I made it up. Why did I just do that? Hopefully to draw some people to the fact that the Bible amongst Christians isn’t that well-loved anymore! No Christians are too busy adopting the culture rather than studying God’s Word.

What other things have I seen that show that Christianity is falling away from God? Well, when a pastor says he is divorcing his wife because God told him to do that and take a new wife and he doesn’t lose his entire congregation and isn’t shamed out of ministry, something is wrong! When a Christian can visit a strip club on Saturday and get drunk and walk into church and teach Sunday school, something is wrong! When young people can live together without being married and still “serve” in church functions, something is wrong! When church splits happen and no one thinks they are wrong (read 1 Timothy chapter 1), something is wrong! When a minister can do as they please, and often does what is in their best interest rather than others, and no one calls them out on it, something is wrong! Yes, something in Christianity stinks with the smell of decayed rotting flesh!

How did Christianity get here? Because the church stopped clinging to God and started to be “sensitive to the seeker.” This change has happened gradually over a period of time and is something that the Church (universal) needs to address. This situation is not found in all congregations/churches but is happening to the Church (universally speaking). So what can you as an individual do? Just do what the Bible says. Be a good steward of God’s Word and be a good steward of the things He blessed you with and you will see a change in Christianity and a change in the culture as a result. We need to get down on our knees and pray with fervency that God would cause repentance to come on His people. We need to beg God to start a change in our own lives and pray that it will spread to others.

What will you do today? The choice is yours.

The Dying Church: NO Fire, NO Power, NO Holiness, NO Ears – Obstacles Facing The Church

Today we have the honor from hearing from a man I went to Seminary with. He is a pastor and has a heart toward God that is absolutely amazing. I hope you enjoy his writings today. – Rev. Joe Kramer 

The Dying Church
NO Fire, No Power, No Holiness, No Ears

By: Rev. Josh Ryan

 

The modern day church is a false magic act. The reason is that it is not what is truly being portrayed. What seem like healthy is actually dead man’s bones, in the replica of what looks like success. So often in the realms of the flesh we the church portray true success not in the eyes of God but in the eyes of man, pertaining to the reality that we believe the object of numbers is the object of success. Jesus did not say go and gather a bunch of people and create a country club, fan base, then go and build a mega church and pat yourself on the back and say well done, while at the same time allowing all the rich to sit in the front so that one can go and comfort them in order to gather there healthy big checks.

Buildings and the expressive gloating of one’s ministry is not what Jesus had in mind when He sent out His disciples to go and build the church. Jesus after all His ministry one earth only had six hundred converts who were not afraid to follow Him. This brings me to my main point; Jesus was not so much into numbers as much as he was to devoted followers who were willing to follow him even unto death. Eleven of the twelve disciples of Jesus where killed and martyred for the cause of preaching and spreading the gospel, a command Christ gave to His church. So often the church is in decline because we have crowds who are only happy with a message that they want to hear. When will there be ministers who will preach with Holy Fire and Holy conviction? Some preachers make ear tickle sermons that last a week, others speak the words of God that last generations to come. Jonathan Edwards is one who spoke the words of God; His sermons are still famous even to this day. Why? Because he spoke with conviction, he spoke with power; he spoke with the Holy Ghost for the purpose of God. How much longer will ministers fill the churches with programs and no power from God?

No Power!
When will the Power of God actually build His Church? The church will falter and fade if man does not rely on the power of God. Trials and tribulations will come and many will see hard times, when this happens who will still be standing? Only those that are marked and moved by the power and Glory of God Himself! These will be the ones who will stand and speak with thunder and with great power.

No holiness
Too often holiness has been replaced with the notion that legalism should be no more. Yet we use this excuse to accept sin and receive the blood grace of Jesus in vein. This action is one who is not blinking or hurting at the thought of Jesus, who died on the cross to give us power over sin. This misconception of Holiness is a modern day God hatred, which mocks God. How long will we be immature to the point we never grow anymore? So often Christians, because of this misconception of grace, go and fall for years never growing and being mature in God. The same power that raised Christ from the dead is in us to give us power over sin. Jesus saved us from the eternal consequences of sin, and He ascended from the grave so that He could descend the Holy Spirit to give us power over sin. The church is falling apart because of the false understanding of Holiness and the false understanding of the great power of the Holy Spirit.

No Ears
Too many churches are only subject to the voices of man and because of this they have become deaf to the voice and heart of God. If the church and it ministers will not stop and listen to God first, they will be permanently deaf. So much energy and personal goals are based on pleasing the people instead of pleasing God, our Lord and Master. The Church is falling apart because they are deaf to the voice and heart of God. When the church opens their ears, not to the pleasant voice of man but to the still small Holy voice of God, then and only then will God transform the church.

In conclusion, the church is falling apart in America, because it lacks the fire, power, respected holiness, and hearing the voice God. We must as a church submit to Jesus and seek not the approval of man but the approval of our Lord.

I would add (Rev. Kramer) that this gives us quite a bit to think about. Will you examine your own heart and see where you fall into these categories? Then repent before a Holy God and let Him work in your life. The Choice is yours.

Obstacles for Church Growth – Rev. Paul Buscher

Today we are continuing our journey through obstacles the church faces. Today we have the privilege to have an article written by Rev. Paul Buscher at Open Door Christian Church where he is the Senior Pastor. He is thought provoking and down to earth with his writing. I know you will enjoy it as much as I did
– Rev. Joe Kramer

Obstacles for Church Growth
Rev. Paul Buscher
Open Door Christian Church, Deland FL.
www.odccdeland.org

There is an ancient Greek myth about a fellow by the name of Sisyphus.  He was the supposed founder and first king of the city of Corinth.  Sisyphus was guilty of some things, and as punishment, he was made to roll a huge boulder up a steep hill.  Sounds simple enough?  At least he was punished for whatever he did, right?  However, before he could reach the top, the massive stone would always roll back down, forcing him to begin again.  This process would go on and on.  He would never be able to complete this task.  So, it has come to pass that pointless and/or never-ending activities are sometimes described as “Sisyphean.”

During the time when this supposed king was punished this way, many would have felt that the punishment was fitting.  “He got what he deserved,” people might have shouted!  On the other hand, reflect on this mythical story through the eyes of modern thought.  “What is the point?” one might question.  “If he knew that the rock would roll back down, why would he keep trying?  It’s illogical in that it doesn’t make sense and irrelevant because we all know better than those primitives!”  Unfortunately, it is this modern way of thinking why the majority of people have become disenchanted with the Church – because God, as seen nowadays, is pointless and irrelevant.

Take, for another example, a church congregation that has been around for quite some time.  Open old photo albums of the church or look at their aged directories of members.  The church used to be a thriving and growing church – with several in membership!  When one looks at the church now, they see a dead church – with only a handful of people in attendance.  Where did all these people go?  While there may be a number a different reasons and causes, one ongoing and prevalent theme is spreading in the world – it is because people no longer feel that they need God – He is irrelevant.

Suppose you asked some random person off the street if they attend church.  It is highly probable that he or she would say, “no.”  If asked “why,” one would usually get the same responses:  “I don’t need God.  Science has already explained what we didn’t already know…”  God is now seen as being pointless and irrelevant and that those who follow God-based beliefs are nothing more than someone who pushes a rock uphill only to have it fall back down.

Secular humanism is a worldly/material ideology that espouses reason, ethics, and justice, by specifically rejecting supernatural and religious teaching as a basis of morality and decision-making.  It seeks to find answers to life and organizes knowledge only in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe, that is, science.  A philosophy like this, along others (such as atheism) fuels the flame that kindles the ideas of no longer needing God and finding Him irrelevant.

We live in a world where things only explained by alleged science are our god.  The “scientific age” and “modern thinking” have been the driving forces of how to establish fact from fiction.  Concepts like “God” and “the Bible” which used to give everyone an explanation are no longer needed.  Again, a random person on the street would be quick to point out that “science has already proven that things like evolution explain our origin…”

Now, this paper will not go into the historical background and significant persons who and how this ideology started and its driving force today (you have the internet for that!).  The point is that because this way of thinking is enormous and worldwide, it causes a huge obstacle in the church today.  If one were to make God relevant again, it should help solve a large portion of the church growth dilemma.  And how does one make God relevant again?  There are three potential ways to contribute to the relevancy of God and thus increase the growth and need for church.

One way is to establish God as being personally relevant to us.  This might sound easier said than done.  When one is depressed, why not turn to alcohol?  Money problems?  Why not try your luck and gamble and become rich?  See something you want?  Go out and get it without thinking of the consequences (or so we are taught in our culture…).  The world is immersed in a consumer culture that encourages us to be selfish (you know, greater and faster consumption of goods, and encourages us to be dissatisfied with what we have, to replace what we have with newer models, later technology, younger spouses, or whatever).  In the long run, material things only find temporary satisfaction.  God is the only one that can completely and personally satisfy.

There is, however, a second predicament to this:  some people feel as though they have no real problems.  They have a car, a house, a job, a spouse.  Life is fine – why do they need God?  “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”  Well, like the saying goes, “good things don’t last forever!”  People soon forget that death is inevitable.  This fact is a very sobering and humbling truth.  By prioritizing God personally and individually in one’s life, God will not just become more “real” – He’ll become relevant!

A second way contribute to the relevancy of God is to make Him locally relevant to us.  People will see the need for God when their needs are met!  Typically, God is more “real” at a homeless shelter.  Why?  Because when people have nothing and then are given something – God is there!  A church needs to support and contribute locally.  There are numerous examples all over the internet when church growth skyrocketed when a local need was met (such as starting an Alcoholics Anonymous group, a food pantry, grief counseling, kid’s softball team, etc.).  People do not want to come to church and be told that they are going to hell.  People will come to church when God is locally relevant to them and their community.

Lastly, one more way to make God relevant again is to make Him globally relevant to us.  Can a world function without God?  Many people think so – but few have taken a closer look.  Just consider even the minute (or not so small) features of the universe and of living things.  These are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection (as taught in secular humanism).  When one considers the argument from the intelligent design of life and the universe, how could God not be relevant?

People may put their “faith” in wars, weapons, and countries to save them.  However there are problems with worldwide pollution, natural resources running out, unequal distribution of financial resources, nuclear weapons, and a possible imminent danger of worldwide catastrophe.  In short, when considering the global problems within the world, the world needs God!

These, however, are only the tip of the iceberg.  The obstacles for church growth are ever present and sometimes never ceasing.  But with the aid of showing God to be more meaningful and relevant both personally, locally, and globally, it can help blast open the doors of growth instead of tediously and uselessly pushing a rock uphill.

More Tolerant Than God – Obstacles Facing The Church

Alright so I was thinking about what obstacles will face the local church in the upcoming years and being relevant to people and I got a great idea! I asked a few pastor friends to weigh in on the subject for you all.

Our first guest writer has been in ministry for many years and is currently the Director of Missions for the Lake county Baptist Association, Rev. Don Miller. He sees what the world calls “tolerance” as one of the major obstacles the church faces today in its growth and in becoming like Christ.I hope you enjoy his article as much as I did.

– Rev. Joe Kramer

More Tolerant Than God
By: Rev. Don Miller, Director of Missions
Lake County Baptist Association Tavares, FL

 

Distractions can be tough!  AND dangerous. Just ask any police officer about texting and driving; and suppose you went to the doctor for a pain in your knee and he decided to run some tests.  After the tests, he comes in and says, “We’re pretty sure you have cancer.  We’re not sure what to do about that.  But you have a bone spur in that knee.  We know what to do about that, so let’s fix that knee, and then we’ll look at that cancer.” I don’t know about you, but I am pretty sure what I’d do.  I’d get a second opinion!  As soon as the doctor said the big “C” word, my knee probably would not hurt anymore! I know some of you have dealt with or are dealing with cancer, and I am sure ever since that diagnosis, it has become your highest health priority.  I am not an expert, but I do know there are many kinds of cancer, some less dangerous than others, but all dangerous.

I believe we are facing cancer in the church that is just as dangerous and deadly as anything we have ever faced.

Prov. 13:24 says in the Holman Christian Standard, “The one who will not use the rod hates his son, but the one who loves him disciplines him diligently.”   The KJV says, “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”

But on the way to work Monday morning I heard a report on the news that said scientists had linked physical punishment with mental disorders as an adult.  They have already claimed that physical punishment makes a child more violent and it doesn’t work.  As I looked deeper into the study, I was reminded of a comment of my professor when I studied statistics.  He said you can prove anything by studies and statistics if that is what you want to prove. In other words, it’s pretty easy to prove something you have already decided is true.  You can always find “facts” that support your “truth”.

The lady that was leading the study is part of a group from the UN (United Nations) that has outlawed corporal punishment in over 30 countries and is working to make it illegal to spank your child in the US and Canada.   Mmmm…wonder if she was impartial when she started this study or not?? These kinds of studies are always reported with a qualifier, “MAY” lead to mental disorders etc.

What if the Bible said, “The one who does not use the rod (may) hate his son…”.  But it does not say that.  “The one who does not use the rod hates his son…” In today’s world if you stand for what the Bible has to say about almost anything, you will face ridicule, being called ignorant, being called intolerant, or possibly face being arrested.

Just recently the Community Church in Howey In The Hills split from the Presbyterian Church USA over the decision to ordain and elect openly homosexual leaders in the church.  Most of the church in Howey, able to read the Bible, knew what the Bible said about homosexuality and chose the Bible over the ruling of the Presbyterian Church. They asked to be allowed to withdraw from the Presbyterian Church, but instead were told that the property belongs to the Presbyterian Church.  The pastor is now leading most of the members as they meet in another place, and is no longer Presbyterian.  The building in Howey is being occupied by a few members and a leader sent by the Presbyterian Church.

The church (in general), even Baptist churches, are being attacked by a cancer called Tolerance.  We are supposed to tolerate anything the world says is “OK”.  We are supposed to accept the word of the world over the Word of God! The funny thing about this is we think of it as a new tactic of Satan, but we find the same thing in the Bible.

Not long ago, Pastor Mark Driscoll put a message online from his church called, “The Church at Thyatira, More Tolerant Than God”.  That caught my attention, and I listened to the message.  I’m not taking his message, but it got me thinking in this line.

Look at Rev. 2:18-29.  As most of you know, this is part of the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation.  The part of Revelation most people are able to understand, but we still miss a lot if we’re not careful.

                Rev. 2:18-29. (HCSV)

18 “Write to the angel of the church in Thyatira:

“The Son of God, the One whose eyes are like a fiery flame and whose feet are like fine bronze,says:

19 I know your works—your love, faithfulness, service, and endurance. Your last works are greater than the first.

20 But I have this against you: You tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and teaches and deceives My slaves to commit sexual immorality and to eat meat sacrificed to idols.

21 I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to repent of her sexual immorality.

22 Look! I will throw her into a sickbed and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her practices.

23 I will kill her children with the plague. Then all the churches will know that I am the One who examines minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you according to your works.

24 I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who haven’t known the deep things of Satan—as they say—I do not put any other burden on you.

25 But hold on to what you have until I come.                 

26 The one who is victorious and keeps My works to the end: I will give him authority over the nations—

27 and he will shepherd them with an iron scepter;
he will shatter them like pottery —

just as I have received this from My Father.

28 I will also give him the morning star.

29 “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Verse 19 is words any church would love to hear from Jesus.  “I know your works- your love, faithfulness, service, and endurance.  Your last works are greater than the first.”  Wow!  What a commendation! Jesus point out their Love, faithfulness, service and endurance which is growing in every way.  That’s the church I want to be part of!!

Until… you get to verse 20.  “But…”  Then Jesus tells them the problem.  He gives her a name, Jezebel.  Now that name may have been a real name, or a nickname given to her because she had so many of the endearing characteristics of Jezebel in the OT. She had self designated her position as prophetess.  We have that danger today.  That is, people who believe earned or made up credentials make you a leader.

Now let me say right up front that I believe in education, even higher education.  But I heard an interesting comment the other day from someone who trained churches in finding leadership.  He was talking about pastors and leaders with a doctorate.  Some doctorates are earned with hard work from an accredited seminary or school.  Some doctorates are given because a person has given much to the school, money, time etc.  At one time you could order a religious doctorate from ads in a magazine. I know this and I have always told committees to look at the doctorate as one of many parts of the person’s qualifications.  But this person went a step further.  He said, “Sometimes people go back to school because it is easier to earn a passing grade than to successfully pastor a church.”

Jezebel gave herself a title and became a teacher in the church.  She deceived many in the church. Those who followed her ended up committing sexual immorality and as it says, “Eating meat sacrificed to idols.”  Let me deal with both of those separately.

Sexual immorality was closely tied to many of the false religions of this area.  You could visit the temple, pay your offering, visit the temple prostitutes, and go home with a venereal disease, all in one day! I am sure that Jezebel had taken the natural loving expression of a husband and wife, twisted it, and supported it with many scientific studies. She had followers who thought those who followed the Word of God as they had it were either stupid, uninformed, or prejudiced and intolerant. They knew better.  They had their own leader, and she knew better.  They were the superior people in their own eyes.

Did you hear another study found that people who bought “whole” foods, free range chicken, etc; had a superior attitude when they were asked about people who do not.  They looked down on those who did not embrace their “food style”. So I felt proud of my humble attitude when I lined up at McDonald’s, especially when I saw that skinny guy riding the bike in the hot sun!

You know sin does not raise its ugly head all at once. In our nation we have moved from strict limits on what could be said or shown in public to an almost anything goes attitude today.  Once bad language could get you removed from the TV or radio.  Today it seems to be almost a requirement.  Sex between a man and a woman has been so publicized and done so often, that now almost every TV show has to have a gay or lesbian actor; and homosexuality has moved from a secret to a protected part of society.  Being anti-homosexual has been defined as the “New Racism”. To top it off the other day the Supreme Court of the United States decided you have a constitutional right, as part of your free speech, to lie! God’s punishment is the sickbed and plague.  I am sure anyone with those diseases never thought their new sexual freedom would lead to that!

But we also read that they were eating meat sacrificed to idols.  We might think this is a strange charge to make, but you have to look a little deeper.

I Cor. 8 (HCSV)

“About food offered to idols. We know that “we all have knowledge.” Knowledge inflates with pride,but love builds up.

2 If anyone thinks he knows anything, he does not yet know it as he ought to know it.

3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.

4 About eating food offered to idols, then, we know that “an idol is nothing in the world,” and that “there is no God but one.”

5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth—as there are many “gods” and many “lords”—

6 yet for us there is one God, the Father.
All things are from Him,
and we exist for Him.
And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ.

All things are through Him,
and we exist through Him.

7 However, not everyone has this knowledge. In fact, some have been so used to idolatry up until now that when they eat food offered to an idol, their conscience, being weak, is defiled.

8 Food will not make us acceptable to God. We are not inferior if we don’t eat, and we are not better if we do eat.

9 But be careful that this right of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak.

10 For if someone sees you, the one who has this knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, won’t his weak conscience be encouraged to eat food offered to idols?

11 Then the weak person, the brother for whom Christ died, is ruined by your knowledge.

12 Now when you sin like this against the brothers and wound their weak conscience, you are sinning against Christ.

13 Therefore, if food causes my brother to fall, I will never again eat meat, so that I won’t cause my brother to fall.”

Did you catch Paul’s heart here?  He knew that the idols were nothing and there was nothing wrong with the food, but if it became a stumbling block to a new believer, he would refuse it.  Concern for the other person was more important than his rights.

When we lived overseas, I had a friend who had grown up Muslim and had converted to Christianity.  He had always been taught that eating pork was a sin.  When he became a Christian, he learned about Peter and calling what God made unclean.  But he still had problems with eating pork.  He said that it was alright for us, and he didn’t try to tell us it was wrong, but he still could not get over his life-long training. Do you think after him telling me that, I was going to say, “Oh that’s silly, have a BLT and that’ll change your mind!” No, I tried to be careful of his needs, and I never ate pork around him.

Those following Jezebel in Thyatira were so confident of their “right-ness” that they looked down on anyone who did not agree with them.

Let me wind this up.  The cancer attacking the church today is from a world shouting “Tolerance” and accusing us of being intolerant.  Yet these same people have become so committed to their belief, they will not tolerate anyone who disagrees!

Thyatira was obviously a great church and had some great Christians in it, but the world demanded that they become more tolerant than God.  That is the demand of the world today to any church that has the audacity to stand on the Word of God.  When the church becomes just like the world, evangelism dies because we have nothing to offer them.

The key is always the same.  Do you believe what God says, or what the world says?  Your source of authority makes all the difference in your response.  The words of Joshua still ring out today “Choose you this day whom ye will serve…”