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Of Hearts And Minds

January 2016
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some things never change
One thing that is a constant in life is change (although there are some critical things that never change–I’ll get to that in a moment). In starting a new blog post today, I discovered that I’m apparently being forced (just a little humor) to give up the old “format” of writing blog posts after five years with a new updated formatting version. I had a choice for a while between the old and the updated version, and I stuck with the old familiar format (how very human of me, eh?). But now that choice has apparently been taken away, so here’s my first blog post using the new format. You won’t notice any difference in the look of my blog as the theme hasn’t changed, but on my end the “behind the scenes” stuff sure looks different. And it’s taking longer to create, too. However, I should be “up to par” by my next blog post.

This morning I read an article in Religion News Service that got me thinking about a topic that needs some clarification. The title of the article is, New head of major secular group is a Christian,” by Kimberly Winston. Apparently, “‘The Secular Coalition for America,’ a lobbying group with atheist, humanist and other nonbeliever member organizations, has hired a Christian as its new executive director” (quote source here).

Now, it’s certainly nothing new for a Christian to work for a secular organization, but as I read the article I came across the following paragraph about the new executive director:

Larry Decker, 40, was raised in an independent Baptist church but now identifies as a “none” — one of the 23 percent of Americans who say they are religiously unaffiliated, according to the Pew Research Center. Like the majority of nones, Decker is not an atheist; he still identifies as a Christian, albeit a nominal one.

“I was raised Christian but for years I have been unaffiliated because I cannot reconcile my values with traditional Christianity, including their concept of God,” Decker told Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist blog in an interview conducted before his appointment was announced Tuesday (Jan. 12). “Right now, if I have to put a label on it, I would say that I identify as an unaffiliated Christian. And like millions of people in our country, my belief system continues to evolve and is entirely personal to me.” (Quote source here.)

Genuine Christianity does not “evolve” according to a person’s “evolving belief system” nor is it ever “entirely personal” to the exclusion of others (as in keeping it a private matter) to the individual. While I realize that the nones (see article titled, ‘Nones’ on the Rise at this link) are becoming more common among us, the term “unaffiliated Christian” sounds more like an oxymoron than a description of a new subset within Christianity. I don’t understand how one can be either unaffiliated or “nominal” about Christianity, especially if they understand the basic tenets of Christianity. However, one can certainly walk away from it, but then if they do why include “Christian” when describing themselves at all? And what exactly is a “nominal Christian” anyway? Do they just make it up as they go along? I found the following definition for “nominal Christian” on Wikipedia:

The Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization (LCWE) defines a nominal Christian as “a person who has not responded in repentance and faith to Jesus Christ as his personal Savior and Lord.” The LCWE notes that such a one “may be a practising or non-practising church member. He may give intellectual assent to basic Christian doctrines and claim to be a Christian. He may be faithful in attending liturgical rites and worship services, and be an active member involved in church affairs.” The LCWE also suggests that nominal Christianity “is to be found wherever the church is more than one generation old.”

Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandryk suggest that “nominalism” is a major issue. They assert that “many traditionally Christian populations know nothing of a personal faith, true repentance, and a trust in the finished work of Christ for their salvation,” and estimate that 1.2 billion people are “nominal and non-practicing ‘Christians’.”

American Reformed theologian Douglas Wilson disagrees with the category of “nominal Christian” and argues that all who are baptized enter into a covenant with God, and are obliged to serve him; there is, therefore, “no such thing as a merely nominal Christian any more than we can find a man who is a nominal husband.”(Quote source here.)

In an article titled, Are We Losing Our Religion: The Growing Classification of None,” by Jeanne Joe Perrone, who is a Millennial, she states the following:

Is America losing its religion?

Should we care?

As a millennial raised going back and forth between divorced parents and their respective Catholic and Evangelical Christian churches, I have had approximately 38,476 existential crises to date. So you may rightly guess that I found this news relevant — fascinating, even, with a dose of that good old cozy feeling of schadenfreude. (Without religion, HOW will the people experience the wonders of the Christian music industry!? I pity them. I pity them all.)

While the residual evangelical in me can’t help but expect fire and brimstone to rain down on our godless nation at any moment, I am cautiously optimistic. There’s something fascinating about seismic shifts and crossroads; they’re messy, but full of potential. I wonder: Are we as a culture throwing out the baby with the bathwater in losing our religion, or can we seize the day and use this cultural shift for good?

The answer seems to be: who knows? The thing about the ‘nones’ is that they are not actually an organized group — yet. They don’t all have the same background or beliefs or avoid traditional religion for the same reasons. They mostly don’t meet for weekly potlucks or have a clear-cut, religiously motivated political agenda like, say, evangelicals. . . .

Nones are less like cultural warriors and more like a one-size-fits-all dress — no one knows what they’re supposed to look like. Part of the problem with defining yourself in negatives (i.e. not religious) is that it’s hard to pinpoint what you actually do stand for.

For-God-So-Loved - John-3-16I don’t doubt that being raised by Baby Boomers hasn’t had it challenges, and the church culture has shifted so much over the past several decades that I can’t keep up with it most of the time. But the culture has also changed dramatically, too, since the 1960’s. What once were considered moral and ethical norms have been cast aside, and add in the technological wonders of this age, and no wonder some are calling themselves nominal if not “nones.” I found her choice of the German word schadenfreude (as in “a good old cozy feeling of schadenfreude”) interesting, too. It means “a feeling of enjoyment that comes from seeing or hearing about the troubles of other people.” What is there to enjoy about the suffering of others? Do people who get that kind of enjoyment not realize it could happen to them, or do they not care? That is something I have witnessed more of in the past decade or so especially in the younger generations, but it’s not without it adherents in all generations. Do I detect an inbred cynicism? That does not come from genuine Christianity.

However, with that being said, the basic tenets of Christianity have never changed, and if a culture or subset of a culture can change them to reflect what they want, or throw out what they don’t like, it’s not genuine Christianity. Christianity transcends culture, and that includes American culture.

Christianity got its name from its founder, Jesus Christ. And Hebrews 13:8 states that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Christianity is unique among all other faiths. It is not about religious rituals; it is about a relationship. GotQuestions.org answers the question What is Christianity and what do Christians believe?” as follows:

The core beliefs of Christianity are summarized in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. Jesus died for our sins, was buried, was resurrected, and thereby offers salvation to all who will receive Him in faith. Unique among all other faiths, Christianity is more about a relationship than religious practices. Instead of adhering to a list of “do’s and don’ts,” the goal of a Christian is to cultivate a close walk with God. That relationship is made possible because of the work of Jesus Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Beyond these core beliefs, there are many other items that are, or at least should be, indicative of what Christianity is and what Christianity believes. Christians believe that the Bible is the inspired, “God-breathed” Word of God and that its teaching is the final authority in all matters of faith and practice (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21). Christians believe in one God that exists in three persons—the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit.

Christians believe that mankind was created specifically to have a relationship with God, but sin separates all men from God (Romans 3:23; 5:12). Christianity teaches that Jesus Christ walked this earth, fully God, and yet fully man (Philippians 2:6-11), and died on the cross. Christians believe that after His death, Christ was buried, He rose again, and now lives at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for the believers forever (Hebrews 7:25). Christianity proclaims that Jesus’ death on the cross was sufficient to completely pay the sin debt owed by all men and this is what restores the broken relationship between God and man (Hebrews 9:11-14; 10:10; Romans 5:8; 6:23).

Christianity teaches that in order to be saved and be granted entrance into heaven after death, one must place one’s faith entirely in the finished work of Christ on the cross. If we believe that Christ died in our place and paid the price of our own sins, and rose again, then we are saved. There is nothing that anyone can do to earn salvation. We cannot be “good enough” to please God on our own, because we are all sinners (Isaiah 53:6;64:6-7). There is nothing more to be done, because Christ has done all the work! When He was on the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30), meaning that the work of redemption was completed.

According to Christianity, salvation is freedom from the old sin nature and freedom to pursue a right relationship with God. Where we were once slaves to sin, we are now slaves to Christ (Romans 6:15-22). As long as believers live on this earth in their sinful bodies, they will engage in a constant struggle with sin. However, Christians can have victory in the struggle with sin by studying and applying God’s Word in their lives and being controlled by the Holy Spirit—that is, submitting to the Spirit’s leading in everyday circumstances.

So, while many religious systems require that a person do or not do certain things, Christianity is about believing that Christ died on the cross as payment for our own sins and rose again. Our sin debt is paid and we can have fellowship with God. We can have victory over our sin nature and walk in fellowship and obedience with God. That is true biblical Christianity. (Quote source here.)

In describing Christianity, to some it may come off sounding boring or too “religious.” However, genuine Christianity is anything but that. But it has to be experienced by the individual–there is no substitution. And it is very costly, but it is worth every bit of the cost. And it is about following a Leader like none other this world has ever seen.

Once when I was traveling back to Houston in late September 2012–my first brief trip back after I lost my job there in late April 2009 and moved back to Florida in late September 2009–I stopped in the Panhandle of Florida to get gas and had a wonderful, yet telling conversation with a young man of 18 who was about to start college at a Baptist college nearby. Raised in a Christian home, he told me that his parents instilled in him the importance of understanding politics as it related to getting ahead and how it was more important than anything else he learned in order to be successful in life. The fact that Jesus never talked politics and never played favorites never came up. That was the “telling” part of the conversation. And what his parents taught him was clearly no different then what the rest of the world lives by and does. We have so intertwined our cultural beliefs with our Christian beliefs that it does not surprise me that there isn’t much there to hold the younger generation’s interest, especially those who classify themselves as “nominal” or “nones.” What a travesty, too, as they have never tasted what genuine Christianity is all about.

Before “a cozy feeling of schadenfreude” takes over with its ensuing cynicism, why not search the Scriptures with an open mind and an open heart. In Revelation 3:20 Jesus gave this invitation:

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.

Come to Me

All you who are weary and burdened

and I will give you rest.

~Jesus
(Matthew 11:28)

YouTube Video: “Revelation Song” by Phillips, Craig & Dean:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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