Saturday, July 30, 2016

The First Church of Entertain Me

There is nothing inherently wrong with a little sweets here and there.  Sometimes "junk food" just hits the right spot.  It lights up those pleasure centers and can make a dark day just a little less dark.  The problem comes in when that same food becomes our everyday diet.  Every meal has a dessert, every snack is a candy bar.  When donuts show up at work, we are the first to grab two or three.  Water with our burger and fries? Blick!  Give me that cola and yes, supersize it!  I remember there was a time when I hated eating vegetables and fruit was actually too sweet for me.  Give me that Snickers bar, instead.

But moderate those things and see what happens.  Stop having dessert after every meal.  Forgot the soda and start drinking more water.  Instead of the burger and fries try some salads and homemade meals.  Your taste buds will begin to adjust.  I've watched children go from junk-food-junkies to actually fighting over the vegetables and fruit, disappointed when they were all gone.  Homemade bread  a treat on par with cake.  Even I have found a new love for fruit.

The human body is funny that way.  Give it enough junk and it will always want that junk.  Take the junk away and it will start to crave what it really needs: nutrition.  I have found something similar happens when it comes to Christianity.  It has been the habit of many over the past few decades to try and entertain people into the kingdom of God.  To, as it were, cover the vegetables in cheese sauce and the fruit in chocolate in hopes the children will get the nutrition in spite of themselves.  Unfortunately all we succeed in doing is to make them more addicted to the junk and when we take the gooey covering away they find they don't really want the stuff they really need.  They want the junk and they will eventually go were they can get that rather than "suffer" through eating what is good for them.

People come into the church expecting to be entertained.  But we are finding out that when we take that entertainment away they really rather not stay.  They find an excuse to head to the nearest source of entertainment.  Even when we keep entertaining them, if we don't keep it new and fresh they get bored and move on. As if every service must start with the announcement, "Now for something completely different".  However, in the end if they can't have their dessert as often as they want and on their own terms they go to where their demands can be met.

Truly there aren't many church goers who think consciously on these terms.  We are so good at fooling ourselves.  "One more doughnut, I'll skip dessert later" (but we don't) or  "I must have the sugar or I feel sick to my stomach" or even "I have low blood sugar" and more.  "This new church has a worship band that is more to my liking", "The preacher is a really good speaker", "This new church has more programs for me and the kids", "The people are very attentive to my needs" and so on.  Notice how none of these last excuses have anything to do with what should be the most important thing to believers: The truth.  They are more about me, me, me.

It amazes me in reading church history how little "entertainment" had anything to do with drawing people to Christ.  In fact, it had nothing to do with it.  They lived and died as witnesses to the faith and they spoke the truth about who Jesus is.  Even the music wasn't written to entertain the people, but rather to worship God.  I often hear people say, "I wish we could have church like the first believers did."  I feel like screaming, "You can!".  However, I would have to warn them that the withdrawal symptoms would be tough and ultimately living like the early Christians could result in great suffering and a premature death.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Catholics and the Orthodox are going to hell

There are a number of ways to win an argument.  The best way should be by presenting the facts and making a case for why you or some other party is right and the other party wrong.  But the best way for many today is simply to misrepresent the truth.  If you can cast a disparaging light over your "opponent" all the better.  And throw in a few logical fallacies and you are almost assured a victory.

One of the reasons I left Protestantism was their seeming disregard for their own blindness and an inability to present sound arguments as to why their views were correct as compared with those of the Orthodox Church.  Arguments for doctrines like justification by faith alone, sola scriptura, the sovereignty of God as expressed by the system called Calvinism, etc.,  were typically unconvincing.  Most of them had a priori truths that I couldn't submit to in the first place, making the rest of the argument rather a waste of time.  In short, most of what I heard was similar to this article. So when I read statements like the one that appeared on the Pen & Pulpit blog site I find my decision to leave Protestantism once and for all confirmed in spades.

Let me say up front there are some real differences between Catholicism and Orthodoxy including their views of the Eucharist.  And so I find it frustrating that he just lumped them both together.  It makes it difficult to respond. So as you read please keep in mind I'm not as familiar with Catholicism as I am with Orthodoxy.  If you have questions please feel free to talk to a priest from either of those two groups. They would be able to explain things better than I.

It isn't that the writer of the article is completely wrong.  I don't know off the top of my head if every claim he makes is wrong.  I certainly don't agree with the Catholics on a number of issues.  But Orthodoxy I do know and the writer makes a couple of false claims (certainly unintentionally, but very commonly made).  For example, to claim that Catholics and Orthodox believers aren't going to heaven because they are idolaters assumes they are worshipping something other than God.  Orthodox believers, and I believe Catholic as well, do not worship holy relics or icons.  They venerate them, which to the outsider may look like worship but is not.  In fact they would consider any worship of inanimate objects or any being other than God blasphemous and would condemn it in the strongest possible terms.

He also makes a very odd statement.  He says:
Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians do not hold to a belief in the final authority of Scripture, rather, Catholics’ authority is in the hierarchical system of priests with the Roman Pontiff at the head, and the Orthodox Church’s authority comes from the seven ecumenical councils. A rejection of biblical authority is a rejection of Christ himself, for the Scriptures say that Jesus is the Word of God made flesh.
He then quotes John 1:1-2,14.

I'm not entirely sure how he thought this supported his assertion.  In fact it sounds more like he is saying the Scripture and Jesus (the Word) are one and the same.  If this is true then why not treat your bible like you would the real presence of Jesus?  Why not swap out the Catholic/Orthodox eucharist for your bible?   I don't believe he intended to say this, but it is telling that he did.  The Protestant view of Scripture is such that it quite easily can be swapped in for the true presence of Jesus.  Talking about a potential form of idolatry!

Again, because he thinks Catholics and Orthodox are worshipping these things in place of God and therefore are idolaters, he insists Believers (here he means Protestants, but I'm not sure which Protestants he means) are not to associate with them and that anyone claiming to follow Christ must leave the Catholic and Orthodox church.  All I can think in response is, "But I just got here!"

I also do not understand his assertion that Christians should leave the Catholic or Orthodox church because God is not the God of confusion but of peace (or of order in some translations). In my walk with God I've been a part of various denominations:  baptist, charismatic, anabaptist, non-denominational (whatever that means), and more.  Frankly, the confusion between these various denominations and even in them is staggering.  It was exactly this that helped drive me to the Orthodox Church in the first place!

He makes another statement I find troubling.  He writes, " Christians have always held to the belief that Roman Catholics are unsaved...".  This makes the astounding claim, implicit in such statements, that there were no bible-believing Christians before the Protestant Reformation. What else could it mean?  There is a belief within Protestantism among the more conservative that the Church faltered and fell away for almost fifteen hundred years until the true faith was discovered again by an angry German monk in the sixteenth century.  The writer may not be claiming this, but such statements do make one wonder.  The fact that there was, at least, a thirteen hundred year span of church history where some of the major claims of Protestantism would have been seen as schismatic and even heretical should be worth some amount of consideration.

Considering I've been following the Savior for about thirty years and it has taken me over ten years of studying the Orthodox church and asking lots of questions of both Protestants and Orthodox, I think I'll stick with my Orthodox church a bit longer.  They seem to have much better answers than the Protestants do and quite frankly they make more sense to me.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Where I would most rather be

So I have seen  you in the sanctuary,
 and beheld your power and glory.

Psalm 62(63):2

Where would I most rather be?  How about you?  Most people might answer with some tropic paradise, or perhaps a ski vacation, maybe a favorite relative or mountain retreat or perhaps simply, "Anywhere but here!".  Where would I most rather be?  Heaven.  My hope and my home.

I have always felt this way as long as I can remember.  The Apostle Peter's words have always struck a cord with me when he called us "pilgrims and exiles" (1 Peter 2:11).  That is how I've always felt here on this planet.  Perhaps there is something of this feeling in a lot of people.  Maybe this is why people are always buying into vacation clubs, changing jobs, marriages, homes, even countries.  Because we all know, deep down inside, that we don't really belong here.

That is why Sunday is so special to me.  It is that one time of the week were I get to step out of this world and into the other.  I get to see and experience my real home for just a few hours. I few very, very short hours.

There are a couple of things I should clarify here.  Although I have always loved going to church (since becoming a disciple of Jesus), and I have always felt a bit closer to my home while there, it wasn't until I visited (and subsequently started attending) an Eastern Orthodox church that I felt even closer to my home than ever before.  I could say here, as would a true and proper Protestant, that it isn't about the icons, the incense, the candles, the chanting, the liturgy, the vestments, etc. But that wouldn't be true.  It is exactly because of all those "things" that I feel closer.  Maybe it was when I first realized this that I also realized I wasn't a very good Protestant. I had, quietly and without much fanfare, become Orthodox. I had slipped beyond the wicket gate and hadn't realized it. I only know that the homesickness I have always felt churning inside of me was suddenly slackened.

As I said, I have always felt closer at Church.  I here only state that I now feel closer than I did before.  For many reading this article you will have no doubt heard people say, "God's not in a building" and "You can find God anywhere".  This is, in a way, quite true. God is omnipresent, so he is by his very nature everywhere.  But the fact is God is more in some places than in others.  The Bible clearly states that God can vacate one place and fill another.  How can he do this and still remain omnipresent?  I don't know.  I don't really care.  I do know that God chooses places to be and invites us to be with him.  I also know that some places are more special to God.  I don't know why that is either.  It just is.  The idea that I can worship God anywhere I want and it is all the same is really the domain of the deist and not a Christian idea at all.  The problem isn't that God can't be anywhere and everywhere, the problem is I have no right to choose where that will be or to call God to allow me to worship him on my terms.  It just doesn't work that way!

So one day I stopped asking myself how I should worship God and started asking God how he wanted me to worship him.  Through more than a ten year long journey I finally participated in my first Easter Orthodox worship service.  For now you will simply have to believe me when I say that I've never experienced anything like that.  I will eventually write more but the experience was so profound that it would be foolish and dangerous for me to attempt to put it into words now.  It has been almost a year and I am still processing that first experience and the many that followed.  Hopefully I will be ready to write soon.

I remember one time, at the church I was attending (and still do from time to time with my family), an elder suggesting we cancel church one Sunday a month to go and help at a local mission. My heart sank to my feet.  I, an elder at the time, made it clear that this was not a good idea and that I would resist such a move.  Why?  Did I hate poor people and people in need?  No, of course not.  But Sunday was the one day I got to come together with God's children and worship him.  The one day I could leave all the pain and misery behind and step into the throne room of our Creator and Father and worship him, visiting my real home, for just a couple of hours.   The thought of losing that, even one day a month, almost sent me into a panic.

I realize that most people don't think this way.  This is why people skip church all the time for games, birthday parties, trips, sleeping in, etc.  I am not claiming you are sinning by missing church.  I am simply saying that I can't understand how anyone would want to miss it. Yes, some days are harder than others.  Sometimes I have to drag myself out of bed.  But those days are growing fewer and fewer and even on those days I am so eternally grateful I made the effort.

Why do you go to church?  Is it to be with people?  Is it for the worship band?  Is it for the preaching?  Those things can be good reasons to some degree but in the final analysis I found those reasons left me wanting. They left me wanting because they weren't the real reason for going to church.  The real reason was to be with God on his own terms.  When I started looking at it that way everything changed. My whole world reoriented itself!

So...where would you most rather be?