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Jun 15, 2014

Christianity: Blight or Blessing?

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: God is NOT Dead!

Category: Christian Apologetics

Keywords: christianity, apologetic, cultural contributions, religion

Summary:

This message seeks to honestly face some of the historical failures of Christianity and Christians while examining what the net effect on the world and culture has been on the positive side. We examine the apologetic of what Christianity and Christians have contributed to human life and culture over the past 20 centuries.

Detail:

Christianity: Blight or Blessing?

God is NOT Dead series

June 15, 2014

Today we’re in the 7th of about 9 weeks looking at a number of the most potent arguments our culture today can muster for not believing in the God of the Bible. We are doing this for two reasons:

1.)    A steady barrage of questions about or attacks on our faith tends to have a weakening effect on anybody if unanswered. So answering others questions or criticisms of Christianity can have a strengthening effect on our own faith in God, the Bible and a host of other things about our faith that we may tend to take for granted.

2.)    If we are in relationship with unchurched and secularized people, these are the questions that are keeping many of them from seriously facing up to God’s call on their lives. These are the issues that they use to deflect away any serious attempt by Christians to call them to faith in Christ. Failure on our part to offer answers at the appropriate time in a humble way is one of the most non-loving things we could do. So as people called to love others well, we need to understand where they are coming from and how to point them credibly towards Christ.

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen that the claims of many leading agnostics, atheists and secularists that Christianity and religion in general is responsible for most if not all of the worst evils of the world is simply not true. Now certainly no Christian who knows history or the nature of church history in particular would claim that Christians have never been involved in human atrocities. They have been. 180 years of the Crusades, 125 years of Religious Wars of Europe, the European and New World slave trade and imperialism—all done in the name of Christianity—have stained the history of the Christian Church.

But what has been the overall picture of impact of Christians on the world? Has it been decidedly evil or significantly good?

            And how should we go about addressing what seems to be massive hurt and anger against Christians in today’s American culture due to the bad experiences so many have had in churches and with “Christians”? How can we address this claim that “the church is responsible for so much injustice”?

For starters, it’s probably important to FIND OUT whether this is a personal and emotional objection someone has or simply an intellectual objection. Personal emotional objections usually come from people who feel wounded by some self-proclaimed Christian or church. If we try to answer their objections without taking time to really listen to their pain, we’ll probably just give them one more reason not to seriously consider Jesus Christ. But if we truly care about the person and take the time to find out what wounded them, we will have an opportunity to actually begin to address the hurt and damage. Sometimes just acknowledging that what people have experienced at the hands of “Christians” and churches was not of Christ…and apologizing for that mistreatment…will go farther to open hearts to Christ than any really brilliant, compelling intellectual argument. Being the people of grace Christ wants us to be will speak much more forcefully than our best intellectual arguments.

            Secondly, lots of people simply use this argument against church and Christians because it seems to silence the discussion. But there are several ways we can address this charge that Christians and the church have been responsible for so much injustice.

1.)    Ask them, “What injustices or failures of Christianity bother you the most?” Or, “What bothers you most about Christians?” Finding out really what it is specifically that bothers them may save you a lot of wasted time answering issues they’re not really concerned about.

2.)    Let’s admit that Christians have some glaring character flaws and that some non-Christians live better lives than many Christians. If the truth will set people free, humbling admitting this truth may go a long ways towards setting people free from negative stereotypes of Christianity and Christians.

3.)    Third, it might help to ask them, “Just WHY does it surprise and disillusion you that Christians sometimes behave worse than non-Christians? At the root of many people’s criticisms of Christians is a mistaken understanding of what Christianity actually claims and teaches.

  1. James 1:17 tells us that “Every good and perfect gift comes down from above…from the father of lights.” What this means is that whenever someone does something good that blesses other people, that is a reflection of what theologians call common grace.God is empowering good in this world through all kinds of people. So when someone acts in goodness, wisdom, justice or beauty, regardless of their religious or non-religious convictions, God is working through them to bless others.
  2. The other side of that is that Christian theology also speaks of the seriously flawed character of both Christians and non-Christians. The central message of the Bible is that we can only have a relationship with God by sheer grace. Our moral efforts are too feeble and falsely motivated to ever merit salvation. But Jesus, through his death and resurrection, has provided salvation for us, which we receive as a gift. Then the growth starts…and it’s a gradual process. So many Christians come to Christ with deep wounds, hurts and brokenness. In that imperfect process of growth, sometimes they will mirror the character of Christ and sometimes the brokenness of sinfulness.

It’s pretty safe to say that good character is often largely attributable to a loving, safe, and stable family and social environment, conditions for which we were not responsible. Life throws different tragedies, disappointments and challenges at all of us. So when someone becomes a Christian, they may be starting the transformation process in Christ from a place where they struggle with uncontrolled anger, addictions or other difficulties.

Now if you meet secular Susie who has been shielded from a lot of dysfunction in life in the same week you meet Christian Calliope with a very broken past, Calliope may still be less secure, less self-disciplined and less loving than secular Susie who is pretty well adjusted and feels no particular need for religious affiliation at all. Unless you know their starting points, you might conclude that Christianity just isn’t worth much and that Christians are just a bunch of hypocrites with their high standards.

Add to that the fact that people in need, people who feel their own sinfulness and that of others around them probably respond more readily to the offer of grace and salvation from Christ than those who feel like they have it pretty much altogether, and you can see why the church and Christians are often more “messy” and rough around the edges than many a non-religious person. If people really understood the Gospel of Christ and what it means to trust in Christ rather than your own goodness, they would not be so surprised that many Christian’s lives don’t compare well to those of some nonreligious folks. The church is a spiritual hospital, and just as the health of people in the hospital is comparatively worse than people visiting museums, so the lives of many Christians are in greater need of God’s redeeming work than others who “don’t need a doctor,” as Jesus said.

This criticism may be a great opportunity to better explain to people the true nature of Christianity.

4.)    It seems that religion leads inevitably to violence.

In Christopher Hitchens book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, he argues that “religion kills.” He then goes on to give personal accounts of religion-fueled violence in places like Belfast, Beirut, Bombay, Belgrade, Bethlehem, and Baghdad (and that’s only the “b”s of the alphabet!).

He argues that religion takes racial and cultural differences and aggravates them by “transcendentalizing” ordinary cultural differences so that parties feel they are in a cosmic battle between good and evil.

If we’re going to be honest, Christianity has had its stains of religious violence. The Spanish Inquisition (3-5,000 killed), witching burnings in Europe (40-60,000 over 300 yrs), the Crusades (9 of them over 177 years with estimates of ALL deaths—slavery, disease, war, etc.—on all sides of not more than 1 million…or less than 5,650/yr). Violence done in the name of Christianity is a terrible reality that must be honestly admitted and addressed wherever it has happened.

But let’s also be equally honest about what has transpired in the last century and what is happening right now, today. I challenge you to find a single example today of a group of Christians who are a.) waging violence in the name of Jesus Christ and are b.) condoned by any significant Christian denomination or group of Christians.

At the same time, as I mentioned in earlier messages, virtually every major war, genocide and atrocity from WWII on in the 20th and 21st centuries can be laid directly at the feet of regimes or individuals who either rejected all organized religion and belief in God (such Hitler & Nazism or Communism in Stalin’s Russia, Moa’s China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Ho Chi Min’s Vietnam, and the Kim’s N. Korea) OR has been/is being carried out by committed adherents of other religions such as Hinduism and Islam today (the Turkish genocide of Armenians, Sudan’s Islamic governments destruction of S. Sudan (2.5 mill killed, 5 mill displaced), Japan’s emperor worship rooted in Buddhism and Shintoism in WWII, what is unfolding in the Middle East’s “Arab spring” in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Iran).

While you cannot arrive at anything approaching even a million people killed in the last century at the hands of Christians doing so in the name of Christ, well over 200 million have been killed by other-faith and non-faith adherents in pursuit of imposing their religions or non-religions on others. And that says nothing of the 1.2 billion pre-born infants killed by the same non-religionists worldwide.  

5.)    What about the abusive churches and fanatical Christians who have been responsible for so many people being turned off in our culture to Christianity?

Those kinds of churches and Christians are usually overbearing, self-righteous, insensitive, controlling and harsh, right? Is that what the Gospel and Christ is all about? Hardly.

So people who fault Christ and Christianity because of their experiences with such adherents are taking aim, not at people who are too committed to the true gospel but at people who are not really committed to it nearly enough. If the essence of Christianity is salvation by grace, salvation not because of what we do but because of what Christ has done for us, then it will produce people who understand and humbly believe that they are accepted by God simply by sheer grace rather than a laundry list of do’s and don’ts.  

The answer is not for Christians to “tone down” and “moderate” their faith, but rather to grasp a fuller and truer faith in Christ that is as fanatically humble, loving, forgiving, caring, compassionate, courageous and kind as it is zealous for truth and righteousness. THAT is the Christianity we are called to follow “fanatically”.

One final thought about the non-religionists critique of religiously supported injustice. When secularists critic us for being power-hungry, controlling or abusive, they are really using the ethical demands of Christianity itself to criticize Christianity. Where did they get this list of virtues by which they can discern the church’s sins? They actually got it from the Christian faith!

            Let me illustrate. Historian C. John Sommerville illustrates it this way. Most non-Christian ethical systems are what is called “self-regarding.” Decisions are made based on what the impact will be upon the decision-maker. The Christian ethical system calls us to an other-regarding ethic—making decisions based on what is best for others.

ILL:   Imagine seeing a little old lady coming down the street at night carrying a big purse. Why not knock her over and take the purse and money?

            Ethical systems that are self-regarding will answer, “Because if you pick on the weak, you are a despicable person. People won’t respect you, and you won’t end up respecting yourself.”

            But the Christian ethical system is other-focused. It asks you to look at how your actions will harm the old woman, leave her destitute, injure her physically. Christianity’s ethical system demands you do what is best for her and her dependents.

            Western culture has not always been that way. It has only become that when Christianity took hold of large segments of Anglo-Saxon life. Even then it did not take hold fully or predominately at all times. And what we are observing today in our culture is a rapid yet clear reversal of that very ethic. Just watch life on the streets for an hour downtown…or sit in most corporate boardrooms or political caucuses across our land…and look for decisions being made based on what is best for the other person. It will become quickly and painfully evident that we are rapidly losing this other-centeredness that genuine Christianity has always called for…and by which the secularists are constantly judging it today. They are using the very tools of criticism that only Christianity has produced and handed them.

            The answer to the criticisms by secular people of the times when Christians have failed to live up to their calling is NOT to further abandon the Christian faith. That would leave us with neither the standards nor the resources to make needed correction. Instead we need to move into a fuller and deeper grasp of what Christianity really is. The Bible has both taught us to expect the abuses of religion and it has told us what to do about them. The history of Christianity is filled with far more remarkable examples of self-correction and service to humanity than of selfishness and destructive domination of people.

The late Dr. James D. Kennedy posed that reality in the title of his book, What if Jesus Had Never Been Born? What difference would it have made to the last 2,000 years of human history if Jesus and His Gospel had not taken hold of so much of human history and culture? Thankfully, you and I and billions of people in this world have never had to face that possibility. We are the rich beneficiaries of a world history that has been dramatically changed by the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus as well as so much good that has come to this world from Christ followers.

            (Sadly, when that day comes in the future Great Tribulation when the Man of Sin is revealed and the world trades Truth for the lie, we will see just what kind of place our world would have become without Jesus, His promised Holy Spirit and the Gospel that has transformed millions.)

Let me highlight for just a few minutes some of the more notable “good gifts from God” that have come to the world through Christ and His followers.

1.)    The Value of Human Life

Prior to the coming of Christ…and once again in non-Christian and post-Christian nations, the value of the human individual was and is becoming exceedingly cheap.

Children:

  • Before the Jewish conquest of the promised land, child sacrifice among the Canaanites was commonplace. This is one of the reasons God demanded that the Jews completely destroy the pagan nations along with their worship of Baal and Ashtoreth. The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago did some excavating in Samaria in sites corresponding to wicked Ahab’s time. They dug up ruins of a temple of Ashtoreth and found that “just a few steps from this temple was a cemetery, where many jars were found, containing remains of infants who had been sacrificed in this temple.” [Kennedy, p. 10]
  • In classical Rome or Greece, abortion and abandonment of babies was commonplace. Virtually all deformed babies were abandoned along with any unwanted ones. They were taken into the forests to be consumed by animals, to starve or to be picked up by those who used and abused them at will. Only about half of the children lived beyond the age of eight.
  • But Jesus changed all that wherever the Gospel took root. His many proclamations about how God deeply values children did more to protect and raise the status of children worldwide than any other person in human history. He declared that while God had “hidden these things [God’s wisdom] from the wise and learned, [He had] revealed them to little children,” (Mt. 11:25). He taught in Mt. 18:3 that unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” He is the one who placed how we treat children as a measure of how we treat God when he said, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” (Mk. 9:37)
  • That’s why we annually support Life Services of Spokane that helps needy moms birth, adopt out or raise their children…along with some nearly 4,000 pro-life Crisis Pregnancy Centers around this country.

NOTE: Interestingly enough, when Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun wrote our own now infamous Roe v. Wade decision that opened the floodgates of abortion in the U.S. in 1973, he appealed to religion. BUT it was not the religion of Christianity. “If I were to appeal to religion,” he wrote, “I would appeal to the religions of Rome and Greece….” At least he was more honest than some today who try to twist the Scriptures to make them sound like they support precisely what they are condemning regarding infanticide and abortion.

NOTE #2: As I say that, knowing that abortion has touched so many women and men in the church, let me add that, as with any sin, the way to deal with the guilt and shame is not to pretend it didn’t happen but to step into the pain of repentance and recovery. If your life has been marked by an abortion, please don’t run from it. Get in a post-abortion support group at Life Services and find the grace and healing of Christ bigger than that sin too.

  • That’s why the early church started a practice that has continued for 20 centuries of orphanages and adoption of children that has changed the face of the world by the millions and even the face of many of our families right here in Mosaic. Look at the statistics of who is adopting orphans of all kinds from around the world and the evidence is overwhelming: it is the Christianized West and overwhelmingly people of faith in Christ who are doing the most to rescue children. From predominantly Hindu India to Communist China to AIDS ravaged Africa, it is Christians who are expending their lives and fortunes rescuing children.
  • Christianity’s influence on Roman Emperors such as Constantine (280-337 A.D.) and Justinian (483-565 A.D.) granted important legal status to children, abolished infant exposure and abortion, ended bloodthirsty gladiatorial combat and gave women unprecedented legal protections. [Kennedy p. 13]

What about the status of WOMEN?

  • Worldwide and still tragically today in non-Christian and post-Christian nations, little girls are aborted and abandoned in far greater numbers than boys. Just look at what is happening in China with the 1-child policy. Go, as our own Steve and Carrie Allen do frequently, to the orphanages of China and you will find far more girls than boys needing homes.  
  • For centuries in India, before the somewhat Christianized British took control, widows were voluntarily and involuntarily burned on their husbands’ funeral pyres. In the nineteenth century, Charles Spurgeon told of a Hindu woman who said to a missionary: “Surely your Bible was written by a woman.” “Why?” he asked. “Because it says so many kind things for women. Our pundits [Hindu priests and scholars] never refer to us but in reproach [Kennedy, p. 17.]

What of SLAVERY?   Without backtracking on our discussion of servitude in Scripture of several weeks ago, no religious people have done more to dismantle the practice of slavery than genuine Christ-followers.

  • Paul’s letter to Philemon at a period in Roman history when half the population of the Roman Empire was slaves radically changed how Christians were to relate to and treat slaves. This happened in a time in the Roman Empire when, if the master of a household was murdered, all of his domestic slaves were put to death without legal inquiry. That is precisely what happened to 400 slaves belonging to the Roman Pedanius Secundus when he was murdered. [Kennedy, p. 19.]
  • In our own nation and in the British Empire, it was Christians like William Wilberforce who dedicated their lives to freeing nearly 5 million slaves. 2/3rds of the members of the abolition society in 1835 were ministers while the leading practitioners of the Underground Railroad were American Quakers.

How about COMPASSION & MERCY MINISTRIES? We could spend a year on this alone. Suffice it to say that from the compassion of Christ towards sick and hungry people of his day, through the monks of the Middle Ages to the international Christian relief organizations of the 21st century, far more humane, charitable, compassionate relief and development has been done voluntarily by Christians than any other religious or non-religious entities in the world. And of those nations which engage in developing social services for their people, it has repeatedly been those with Christian convictions or roots that have pioneered and developed a social-service net.

            APP: call out the names of ministries and organizations you know of in our day that both locally and internationally lead the way in caring for the poor.

  • World Relief
  • World Vision
  • Samaritan’s Purse
  • Food for the Hungry
  • Compassion, Int.
  • Salvation Army
  • YMCA & YWCA
  • UGM
  • City Gate
  • Cup of Cool Water
  • Catholic Charities
  • Volunteers of America—founded by Ballington Booth, evangelist and son of William and Catherine Booth, founders of the Salvation Army.

Listen to what Orthodox Rabbi Daniel Lapin of Seattle said on TV one day. “I want to tell you something else that I, as an Orthodox Rabbi, am enormously struck by; and that is that when one travels around the world, every single time there is a calamity, every time there is a natural disaster, who is on the spot? Numerous American, religious, Christian-driven charities bringing relief; that is where it is coming from.” [Quoted in Kennedy, p. 35.]

Let’s move to EDUCATION.

From the codifying of hundreds, nearly thousands of languages worldwide by Christian missionaries to the establishing of the greatest universities and educational systems known to mankind, Christianity has lead the charge. That doesn’t mean Christians were the only ones to value and develop good education. There was education before Christianity came around, but it was almost universally for the elite only. The concept of education for everyone was truly the result of the Protestant Reformation.

            When the Bible became the focal point of Christianity is when education for the masses was really born. The invention of the Gutenberg Press, the printing of the first books (Bibles) combined with Reformers, primarily John Calvin, to give us the concept of education for the masses. It was Calvin who advocated that the purpose of education is for people to know God and glorify Him as God. And he strongly emphasized that education must have a moral relevance.

            By the turn of the 20th century, before cultures and nations were somewhat homogenized as they are now, literacy rates in Christianized nations were dramatically higher than those of non-Christian nations. In China and India, literacy rates ranged from 0 to 20%. Nations with a predominantly Roman Catholic outlook had rates ranging from 40-60%. While in predominately Protestant nations, the literacy rate ranged from 94% to 99%.

            Take just the early education of Americans. In 1642 the Puritans passed a law to require education for all children. Five years later, in 1647, they passed the “Old Deluder Satan Act,” that mandated towns hire and pay teachers. It was so named because they understood that it was Satan who was the father of lies and used ignorance, particularly ignorance of Scripture, to hold people in bondage to sin.

            For 217 years, from 1620 to 1837, virtually all education in America was private and Christian. Just check out the Christian theology and world view taught for over 2 centuries in The new England Primer and McGuffey’s Readers.

            And when it comes to higher education, scholar H. Rashdall, author of The Universities in the Middle Ages, writes, “Nothing approaching a regular university ever existed…” in either ancient Greece or medieval Islam. In the United States, almost every one of the first 123 colleges and universities in the U.S. had Christian origins. Harvard, Yale, William & Mary, Brown, Princeton, NY University, Northwestern University were initially institutions designed to educate ministers and missionaries as well as biblically grounded professionals in all walks of life. Dartmouth was founded to train missionaries to the Indians. William and Mary was created “that the Christian faith might be propagated.” An early advertisement for King’s College, now Columbia University, read: “The chief thing that is aimed at in this college is to teach and engage children to know God in Jesus Christ.” The president of Princeton, Rev. John Witherspoon, said, “Cursed be all learning that is contrary to the cross of Christ.” [Kennedy, p. 53.] How much education nowadays is “cursed” under that qualification?

We could go on for days about the positively remarkable and transformational contributions Christ and Christians have made through the centuries:

  • Hospitals, which essentially began during the Middle Ages. (Just look at every major hospital in Spokane…or around the world!

And, by the way, even when other non-Chr. nations try to duplicate what Christian medical care has produced, it turns out to be radically inferior.

STORY: I remember talking with a medical doctor from a very wealthy Islamic state nation. When I commented that medical care must be fantastic there, he laughed and told me that precisely because it was run by the religious leaders of the nation, money, services and supplies were so grossly misappropriated so that his modern hospital didn’t even have soap or rubber gloves for the doctors! It is time we stopped apologizing for the FACT that the Christian world-view IS different and makes a huge difference in the well-being of people no matter what nation or culture we’re talking about.)

  • Representative government, particularly as modeled in the American experiment.
  • The separation of political powers.
  • Civil liberties
  • Modern science
  • The status and elevation of the common person.
  • Law, morality and Christian ethics that have helped bring justice, protection, progress and order to millions.
  • Some of the greatest development of art and music in human history.
  • The “Gospel lift” that has happened in thousands of places around the world as people become Christians, discover a Chr. work ethic, develop stable families, learn to live for others rather than themselves…and the economies of whole villages, regions and nations change.
  • The transformation of hundreds of millions of people worldwide in every known culture from people who damaged and destroyed others and themselves to people who became the best citizens and strongest assets of a nation through salvation and becoming more like Jesus Christ in discipleship.

CONCLUSION:

So it really, in our generation, comes down to whether or not WE will be “a blight or a blessing.” Will we be the men and women who are, by our lives, one of the strongest arguments FOR Christ and the power of God to transform people into instruments of blessing rather than destruction in this world?

Our peers and now several generations of both churched and unchurched in America are tired of a Christianity that simply makes people arrogant, hardened in their categories, critical in their attitudes. They are increasingly weary of churches that act more like clubs than hospitals and simply invite people to come, sit, soak, sour and go on with their lives virtually unchanged. I think Jesus is too!

            So what is God asking YOU to DO that will become one of the best apologetics, one of the strongest proofs of the power of Christ to change you and others?

As we have seen today, it can happen in a thousand different arenas of life—education, medicine, business, politics, compassion ministries, care of the elderly or orphans or unborn. It might be that you become the voice for ethical standards in your workplace…or for reform in education…or for simply a positive, joyful attitude in your school. What has God made you compassionate or passionate about? It’s time to stop just thinking or talking about it; it’s time to pour your life into what God has saved and sanctified you to DO.

If you don’t know what that is yet, what will you do this week to start finding out? Where will you volunteer? Who will you talk with? What 1 or 2 steps will you take to make it harder and harder for people around you to blame Christians and the church for the ills of the world?

And if you need help in discovering what the next step is, there are many of us here at Mosaic who would love to help you figure that out. Just let us know.