993) Sawing Off the Branch We are Sitting On

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Although Western cultural elites deny it, non-Westerners know full well that the key to the West’s success over the centuries is Christianity.  Eric Metaxas writes, “It never ceases to amaze me how modern western secularists are doing all in their power to purge Christianity from public life.  As would say, ‘They’re sawing off the branch they’re sitting on.’”  Today’s reading is from the June 29, 2006 BreakPoint broadcast in which Chuck Colson explains the fact that the freedoms and scientific progress we enjoy in the West are due to the West’s embrace of Christianity.  (www.breakpoint.com)

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     When you hear the word “globalization,” you probably think of Chinese factories or customer service centers in India.  What you probably don’t think about is Christianity.  Yet globalization and Christianity are linked in ways you may never have imagined.

     Globalization is about more than markets and technology.  It’s also about the spread across national boundaries of ideas and values— in other words, culture.  While the spread and exchange of culture flows in many different directions, the ideas and values most associated with globalization are those of the West.

     And this is where Christianity comes in.  In his marvelous book, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, Rodney Stark writes that “Christianity created Western Civilization.”  Without Christianity’s commitment to “reason, progress, and moral equality, today the entire world would be about where non-European societies were in, say, 1800.”

     This would be a world “with many astrologers and alchemists but no scientists.  A world of despots, lacking universities, banks, factories, eyeglasses, chimneys, and pianos.”  The “modern world,” to which globalization aspires, “arose only in Christian societies.  Not in Islam.  Not in Asia.  Not in a ‘secular’ society— there having been none.”

     Needless to say, Stark’s conclusions aren’t popular with academics and other intellectuals and have been savaged by liberal reviewers.  These folks are all too happy to blame Christianity for some of the darker episodes in Western history, but they’re not about to give the faith credit for Western success.

     No matter.  Non-westerners see the connection.  For example, Chinese scholars were asked to “look into what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world.”  After considering possible military, economic, political and cultural explanations, they concluded that the answer lay in what the Chinese scholars saw as the “heart” of the West’s pre-eminent culture:  Christianity.

     These non-Christian and non-western scholars had “no doubt” that “the Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and the successful transition to democratic politics.”

     Apparently, many of their countrymen agree.  Whereas there were approximately 2 million Christians in China when Mao came to power in 1949, today there are upwards of 100 million.  What’s more, Christianity is especially popular among the “best-educated” and most modern Chinese.

     Why?  Because like people everywhere, except, ironically, in the West, they see Christianity as “intrinsic to becoming modern.”  For them, Christianity is an alternative to a way of life that bred misery and oppression.  They understand Christianity’s role in the rise of the West, even as Western elites deny the connection.

     Of course, this isn’t the primary reason that Christianity is “becoming globalized far more rapidly than is democracy, capitalism or modernity.”  That is due to the proclamation of the Gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit.

     Still, it’s a powerful reminder of how Christianity transforms not only individual lives but entire societies as well.

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Psalm 11:3  —  When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?

Revelation 21:5  —  He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Romans 12:2  —  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

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God of ages, eternal Father: in your sight nations rise and fall, and pass through times of peril.  Now when our land is troubled, be near to judge and save.  May leaders be led by your wisdom; may they search your will and see it clearly.  If we have turned from your way, reverse our ways and help us to repent.  Give us your light and your truth; let them guide us; through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of this world, and our Savior.  Amen.

–1970 Presbyterian Hymnal, page 180.

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For more on this topic see:

http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/china_705/interview/xiao.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YjntXYDPw44

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6JYk5aCB4A

http://www.lcmc.net/event-presentations/mr-chuck-bentley/a484.html

766) Should We Take Down All the Fences?

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By Eric Metaxas at http://www.breakpoint.org , May 15, 2015 blog entitled How Christianity Made Children

     So many of the ideas and values we take for granted today are historical innovations, brought about by the rise of Christianity.  Take the common rules of engagement that add a measure of “fairness” to warfare, or the idea that men and women are equally valuable in the sight of God.

     These days, of course, Christianity takes the fall for things that cramp peoples’ style:  monogamous marriage, chastity, the sanctity of life, and the nuclear family, to name but a few.  But in their rush to dismantle these irksome rules, modern secularists would do well to heed G. K. Chesterton’s warning about knocking down a fence before knowing why the fence was put there in the first place.

     You see, the early Christians’ insistence on sexual restraint proved enormously beneficial to the ancient world— especially to society’s most vulnerable members. 

     Take the case of children.  Writing at The Week, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry explains, “Today it is simply taken for granted that the innocence and vulnerability of children makes them beings of particular value, and entitled to particular care…[but] this view of children is a historical oddity.”

     Gobry points to the work of historian O. M. Bakke, whose book “When Children Became People” documents how radically Christianity altered the practices of ancient Greece and Rome, and what the world before Christ looked like.

     Children, he says, were considered nonpersons.  In the cultures of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Pliny the Elder, society was organized in “concentric circles,” with the most valuable (freeborn, adult males) in the center, and the least valuable (women, slaves, and children) on the fringes.

     From the moment of birth, a child in ancient Rome was as likely as not to die.  If disease or injury didn’t end a young life, very frequently the parents themselves did, “exposing” (abandoning them out in the woods) any infants deemed inconvenient.  Such children usually fell prey to wild animals or the elements.  But as Gobry points out, a few were rescued only to be raised in one of the ancient world’s most lucrative industries: sex slavery.

     Today, sexually abusing a child is a serious crime.  Not so in the pre-Christian world, writes Gobry.  During that time it was legal, and even considered good form, for a married Patrician to keep children— particularly young boys— to exploit sexually in his free time.  “Most sexual acts were permissible,” Gobry explains, “as long as they involved a person of higher status being active against or dominating a person of lower status.  This meant that, according to all the evidence we have, the sexual abuse of children…was rife.”

     Into this world came Christianity, with its condemnation of abortion, infanticide and child abuse, its glorification of faithful marriage, and its teaching that children come first in the Kingdom of Heaven.  “Whoever causes one of these little ones to stumble,” said Jesus, “it would be better for him to have a millstone tied around his neck and to be thrown into the sea.”

     This ethic, which the Western world takes for granted today, is a direct heritage of Christianity.  It rests on the very same beliefs as traditional marriage, chastity, and the sanctity of all life.  And secularists who want nothing more than a world free from these constraints of Christian morality, warns Gobry, had better consider— or rather remember— what that world looks like.

      You may read Gobry’s article at:  

http://theweek.com/articles/551027/how-christianity-invented-children

      Let me warn you, it gets graphic.  But it’s important we understand what a civilization truly free of irksome Christian rules looks like— especially if we hope to make the case for why some fences need to stay put.

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Jeremiah 6:15-19  —  Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct?  No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush.  So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them,” says the Lord.  This is what the Lord says:  “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.  But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’  I appointed watchmen over you and said, ‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’  But you said, ‘We will not listen.’  Therefore hear, you nations; you who are witnesses, observe what will happen to them.  Hear, you earth:  I am bringing disaster on this people, the fruit of their schemes, because they have not listened to my words and have rejected my law.”

Matthew 18:6  —  (Jesus said), “If anyone causes one of these little ones— those who believe in me— to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

Psalm 11:3  —  When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?

Proverbs 3:5-7  —  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.  Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.

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O eternal God, who has taught us in you holy Word that our bodies are temples of your Holy Spirit:  Keep us, we pray, temperate and holy in thought, word, and deed; that at the last we may see you and be made like you in your heavenly kingdom; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–B. F. Westcott, British Bishop and Bible scholar,  (1825-1901)

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656) Radical Islam, Secularism, and Christianity

By John Stonestreet, January 15, 2015, for  www.breakpoint.org

     G.K. Chesterton once said, “It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.”  Well, if that is indeed the test, then recent events in Paris prove that radical Islam fails miserably.

     The horrific attacks in France were sparked by cartoons published by the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.  Throughout the years, many of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons have mocked various religions and religious beliefs, including Muhammad and Islam, something that outraged radical Muslims.  For example, an imam in London (that’s right—London), Anjem Choudary, wrote in the wake of the massacres that the twelve victims brought their deaths on themselves.  Said Choudary, “It is time that the sanctity of a Prophet revered by up to one-quarter of the world’s population was protected.”

     On one level, of course, Christians can agree that mocking the religious beliefs of others is deplorable.  In fact, we face that kind of mockery ourselves.  Who can forget the piece of so-called art produced by Andres Serrano in which a crucifix was immersed in a jar of urine?  In more recent days, the exhibition of blasphemous nativity scenes has become something of a pop culture trend.

     So we can identify with the outrage that many Muslims feel when their religion is mocked.  Yet, while people of good will may disagree about the degree to which freedom of speech should allow blaspheming the sacred, this incident provides a stark contrast between the worldviews of Christianity, secularism, and radical Islam.

     Secularism has no framework to understand the reaction of radical Islam, because the only thing sacred in secularism is personal autonomy.  And following that “all religions are alike” line of reasoning, many secularists fail to distinguish between religions.  So you’ll hear, as we did in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, comparisons between radical Islam and Christianity.  The most ridiculous comment perhaps in the history of MSNBC was uttered the other night, when First Look Media’s Eric Bates compared Jerry Falwell suing pornographer Larry Flynt in the 80’s with radical terrorists executing people in France, and all while host Alex Wagner nodded approvingly.  So appealing to law is the same as committing murder?

     But the massacre in Paris is a perfect example of how Christianity differs from Islam, especially radical Islam.  The Paris terrorists thought they were defending the honor of Muhammad and were being faithful to Islamic teachings by killing blasphemers.

     Christians are called, however, to respond to insult—and even blasphemy—in a different way.  Writing after the attack, Dr. Bill Brown, a mentor and friend of mine and former president of two Christian colleges, noted that “Christ never demanded that his ‘honor’ be defended.  He told Peter to put down his sword when he attempted to protect him…  He told his disciples that the world hated Him so they should be prepared to be treated badly as well (John 15:18-25).”

     As Chuck Colson said, “Christians don’t impose our views on anyone.  We propose…  The Christian Church makes a Great Proposal, inviting everyone to the table, regardless of color, ethnic origin, background, or economic status.  We’re inviting people to consider a worldview that works, that makes sense, through which people can discover shalom and human flourishing.”

     The Kingdom of Christ, my friends, advances through love, not through compulsion, intimidation, or even legitimate outrage.  The God of Christianity invites people.

     That’s not saying we shouldn’t speak up for the truth.  Of course we should, and our Lord was never shy about this.  But as the Apostle Paul also said, when we speak truth, we do so in love, because following Christ is the way of love.

     “The beautiful truth,” Bill Brown says, “is that the history of the faith is filled with those who once spoke violently against Christ and then, overwhelmed by grace, embraced Him as Savior.

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I Peter 3:13-17  —  Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.  “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.”  But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

John 18:11  —   Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away!  Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

John 15:18-21  —  (Jesus said),  “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you.  Remember what I told you:  ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also…  They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.

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A PRAYER FOR UNBELIEVERS:

O Lord Jesus Christ, upon the Cross You did say:  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  And this surely, O my God, is the condition of vast multitudes among us now.  They deny that there is a God, but they know not what they are doing.  They renounce all faith in You, the Savior of man.  They mislead the wandering, they frighten the weak, they corrupt the young.  Others, again, have a wish to be religious, but mistake error for truth; they go after fancies of their own, and they seduce others and keep them from You.  They know not what they are doing.  But You can make them know.  Teach them now, open their eyes here; before the future comes.   

–John Henry Newman