People sometimes ask about me, out of concern for some potential
hidden agenda I might have. This is probably a healthy attitude,
considering how deceptive much of the world has become these days!
An editor could exert influence on his readers by his selection
of articles to include in a compilation like BELIEVE.
People don't seem to ever do anything for anyone else without
expecting something in return. How sad! Imagine what Jesus
would have to say about that!|
There are things we should sometimes do where there is no direct benefit to ourselves. I feel my efforts at assembling BELIEVE fall in that category. I feel it is irrelevant whether I would somehow personally benefit from the existence of BELIEVE. It was never inspired by personal quests for wealth or fame or leadership power. Or, even, toward "scoring points" with God. It is just something that I believe is necessary and important and RIGHT!
In a number of modern Christian books, there is a lead statement,
sometimes on the book cover, such as the following:
|BELIEVE Religious Information Source - by Alphabet. Our List of 2,300 Religious Subjects|
Our Church is mystified by most of other modern Protestant Churches
on several points!
They seem to not only tolerate but enthusiastically endorse and
welcome homosexual people. It is hard to see where in the Bible
they got that attitude, because Leviticus 20:13
seems to be really clear to me:
If a man also shall lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood [shall be] upon them. [KJAV]
Where does anyone see any lack of clarity in that Bible Verse?
If an entire Commandment of God is dedicated to that subject, doesn't that seem pretty compelling of an argument?
How do such Protestant Churches ignore such Scriptures and dream up some non-existent Scriptures to welcome homosexuals? I realize that it is now "politically correct" to avoid discriminating against racial groups and gender differences and all sorts of other things. And I have great compassion for all such groups of people. But I just don't see where Churches that claim to be Sola Scriptura can be so enthusiastic about homosexuals! And the American Episcopalian Church seems to have decided to even intimately get them involved as Priests and more. It just seems amazing to me!
Countless millions of (American) Protestants have amazingly vicious attitudes toward the very word abortion, much less the actual concept or its procedure. Churches and extremely aggressive Christians have frightened many Doctors out of that field, and even killed some of them, and there are several whole States that now do not have ANY facilities where that procedure could even be done. I am certainly NOT a supporter of the modern attitudes of using abortion to deal with mistakes made during indiscriminate sex activities.
However, all such people certainly insist that they are acting and thinking based DIRECTLY on the Bible. When I ask such people to Cite the Scriptures that they believe state what they believe, none yet ever have been able to. For good reason! The Bible does NOT actually even mention the subject!
So, even though I basically agree with the attitude they have on that subject, it is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG to claim that the Bible says things that it does not say.
This seems to me to be a frightening example of where Churches that are supposedly Sola Scriptura, have some leaders who choose to ADD IN their own many assumptions and extreme interpretations, to arrive at all sorts of "absolute facts"! Except they are not FACTS at all, but merely some people USING the Bible to advance social attitudes that they personally believe.
Again, I actually generally AGREE with those attitudes, that the modern unlimited access to abortion tends to encourage young people to act irresponsibly, and that something should be done to try to control that problem. But I am not sure it is the right thing to do to TWIST the words of the Bible so that they seem to support some personal attitudes as to how to do it.
For the record, the Bible includes the Ten Commandments, and one of them as presented in Exodus 20:13 is "Thou shalt not kill" in the English translation in the King James Bible. People might be surprised to learn that that Commandment was actually just a single word in the Original Ancient Hebrew, the word ratsach. That word has the correct translated meaning of murderer or to murder. The concept of kill is not necessarily even implied! Even the many English translations all involve some assumptions in making that single word into a full sentence! Even the concept of NOT is not actually in the Bible, but it is obviously strongly implied!
Bible Scriptures such as that have been stretched to encourage some Denominations to be against war, although only the English translation actually could imply that, as the Original Ancient Hebrew specifically only refers to the act of murder. Other Denominations have stretched that single Original word to be the basis for their Church's Teaching that no one is even permitted to take a life in defending one's own life or family, which is clearly NOT what the Original word meant! And then there are nearly all modern Protestant Churches that, without actually knowing why, have stretched that single Original word to somehow apply to pre-humans! I don't really have any real problem with their intended purpose, but just that their methods are horribly intentionally misleading, and, therefore, as I see it, un-Christian.
To CLAIM that the Bible Teaches something, when it actually does not, is simply deceptive! How dare Christian Churches do such things?
Our Church certainly tries to encourage young people to act and think responsibly. But we choose to try to do that within the bounds of what the Bible actually says! NOT what we might WANT it to say!
There is a very troubling secondary effect of this. One would hope that the Members of such Churches would READ THEIR BIBLES to find the Scriptures that are behind any such strong positions. But if they do, they certainly cannot really find anything to support such severe attitudes against abortions and abortion clinics. Therefore, the obvious conclusion is that Members of Churches simply have absolute trust in their Ministers. That is wonderful in many ways. But if and when any Minister goes astray, the Congregation should really not just continue to totally trust him, but rather should have a healthy skepticism regarding free and open discussions. So the frightening aspect of this to me is where millions of Fundamentalist Conservative Christians never even consider questioning the slightest part of what they are Taught, as somehow being sinful in challenging the perfection of understanding of their Minister! And so all those 1,300,000 Ministers (in the USA) (possibly even including us in our own Church) essentially have no reason for any restraint at all! No one can ever question them or anything they say or Teach! I can see why egos might get involved and Ministers could start teaching what THEY want to believe, and not necessarily what is actually in the Bible. It certainly seems to happen a lot, especially in some giant Churches and in some tele-Evangelists.
Therefore, we are certain that Jesus would strongly counsel against frivolous sex, BUT we are not absolutely sure what His response would be to a very young girl who approached Him regarding having been raped by a relative or friend and now being pregnant. Or being raped and pregnant due to some vicious attacker. Would Jesus really force her to confront those memories every day of the rest of her life, in raising a child? Maybe. But we really suspect that Jesus might have had a very few, very specific exceptions, where even He might have felt that an abortion was appropriate FOR A SPECIFIC GIRL and a SPECIFIC set of circumstances. We have no way of actually knowing. But we KNOW that he really had a problem with legalistic enforcement on God's Laws, and we know that He generally showed very PERSONAL ATTENTION to each individual. We are tempted to think that Jesus might have devised a UNIQUE response for each person and each situation.
Doesn't it seem that modern giant Churches (and modern giant government) seem to thrive on establishing absolutely universal, in other words, legalistic, rules and laws? How come no one sees that as being a bad thing?
We humans tend not to like "vacuums"! Whenever we come across anything where some piece seems to be missing or vague, we have a tendency to try to figure out what belongs in there, and then we sort of "insert" what we think is appropriate! Since virtually no external information source exists for much of what is in the Bible, it seems human nature to find it necessary to add such things in (assumptions) if we are essentially exclusively to rely on the Bible. We Protestants follow Martin Luther's lead on this, a concept called Sola Scriptura (by the Bible alone). We Protestants have great skepticism for countless Catholic beliefs that are based on "Tradition". Those many Traditions are NOT Biblically based, but rather the result of early Christian scholars "trying to fill in vacuums".
Catholics are not alone in this sort of thing! Protestants seem really good at it too! Since the Bible is often somewhat general, and occasionally even vague, on some side issues, early Protestant Church leaders made their own "assumptions" in order to figure out what additional words/ideas need to be added to Biblical texts, to enable broader understanding. Since that process of "assumption" necessarily involves human fallibility, it turned out that various Protestant groups came to different conclusions regarding various matters. This, in my opinion, is the central cause of the multitude of modern Protestant Denominations. Along the way, many of these various groups/Churches seem to have forgotten that they are, above all, Christians. Rather, they tend to infight a lot, each claiming and believing that they alone know the "correct" understanding of the Lord, His Plan and the Bible.
I don't claim to be in any position to judge that one or another is more correct or more wrong. One reason for assembling the BELIEVE resource was to provide "impartial" presentations of all of the generally accepted opinions / assumptions on areas that seem to cause most controversy. It is meant to be left to each visitor to BELIEVE, aided by his/her Holy Spirit, to Discern whatever seems most "correct". If BELIEVE has been done adequately, it should NOT provide specific encouragement toward any particular (human) opinion, but only that SOME method of Worshipping and Praising the Lord should be pursued.
BELIEVE can obviously NOT be of a standard that Jesus Himself would do. But that's the 'bar' I have set for BELIEVE. It will therefore always fall short, but it will hopefully always continue to improve.
In recent years (1996), I became a Pastor of a very small non-Denominational Christian Church. A primary function I now have is in maintenance of BELIEVE and in responding to the many e-mail questions that readers have.
I think our Church wonderfully presents attitudes I share and try to live and teach. In addition to all the "standard" Christian beliefs, we always try to consider how Jesus would have handled any situation. For example, would He have written something just to promote His personal fame? Not a chance! Would He have ever said or presented something that He knew to be incorrect or inaccurate or incomplete? Never! Would He have ever said derogatory things about others or their actions (unless they are directly violating the Will of God)? He wouldn't do that. He might find it necessary to admonish or correct someone, but He would do it is some exquisitely classy way!
Well, this is quite a standard to aspire to! Obviously, as humans, we are certain to always fall far short of His standard! But we continue to TRY, and that's central to what our Church teaches and what BELIEVE also attempts to accomplish.
With this in mind, I try to have a very open mind on most subjects. Rather than spouting strict dogma to an individual who is in a difficult situation, I try to consider the unique aspects about that person's situation. Rather than being automatically critical of other Denominations and other Faiths, I am usually tempted to think there is some good in nearly all of them, ESPECIALLY if their goal is to Worship God! (Again, I just try to act and think similar to the way I think that Jesus would have done.)
As a Protestant, I guess I'm supposed to be critical of the Roman Catholic Church. I certainly disagree with them on some important points, but it seems that it would be awfully arrogant of me to believe that I was always absolutely right and 700,000,000 Catholics were totally wrong in their beliefs. Such an attitude just wouldn't seem to make sense to me! I can imagine the look that Jesus would give me if I would ever treat other followers of His disrespectfully! Somehow, I just see Him appreciating all of our individual various efforts at Worshipping God! I don't always understand just how He might be able to do that!
As editor of the BELIEVE compilation of religious articles, I have tried to go to extreme effort to ensure and maintain the usefulness of each of the presentations. I understand the term "usefulness" as including being informative, understandable, complete, accurate, and with minimal bias on the part of the specific author(s).
In order to achieve both the understandability and completeness parts of that, many of the BELIEVE presentations include at least two separate articles, by different authors, nearly always world-respected scholars. The first one is usually a overview article, on a General level. The second is usually a much more technical or comprehensive Advanced presentation. As to accuracy, I have tried to only select articles that were written by world renowned authors in their particular field of interest, especially for the Advanced presentations.
Minimizing bias has been the most difficult aspect of the selection process. Fortunately, owning a successful manufacturing company gave me a lot of flexibility, so (prior to becoming a Pastor) I was able to take about two and a half years off to work full time in initially assembling the articles and creating the programs for BELIEVE. In selecting the 2,000+ articles then in BELIEVE, I also considered over 15,000 others, which seemed (to me) to have distortions of fact or bias. Such bias was not always blatant or obvious, so it was sometimes a judgment matter. (BELIEVE now includes over 10,000 articles in it.) This has been the most common reason why articles have not been included in BELIEVE. It is natural for an author to have enthusiasm for his or her subject. No problem there. If that enthusiasm goes beyond certain limits, sometimes an author can exaggerate or distort facts or include their own personal negative biases regarding competing perspectives. I was concerned that a reader might misunderstand such personal comments. Rather than taking the chance of misleading a reader, I have chosen to just not include such articles.
An additional way of minimizing bias is in now including five or more separate scholarly articles on many important subjects, often from very different viewpoints. In addition to articles by Protestant scholars, BELIEVE now often also includes articles by Catholic Scholars, Orthodox scholars, and even Jewish and Muslim scholars. By being able to read each very different perspective, a reader might be able to gain broader or deeper insights, and NOT be greatly affected by any possible bias by one or another of the authors.
Christianity has enough hurdles to overcome on its own. It is not helpful for Ministry to give negative impressions for other Denominations. It can clearly tarnish the image of all of Christianity. In addition, it is not being fair to individual Congregation members. Certain of them MIGHT benefit more at some other Christian Church, that was more attuned to their personality. Why would that be bad? Sadly, the only real reason might be because forever after that, the person might be putting money in a different Church's Collection Plate. (Sorry for the possibility of cynicism.) If it would ever seem clear that a specific person could become closer with the Lord in some different Church, that seems like a desirable end! It seems that a Church that realized that has the RESPONSIBILITY to walk the person down to the other Church!
I am convinced that the Lord would prefer that we communicate on a positive basis, rather than quickly looking to find causes to disrespect or insult or even kill the believers of some other group. I am often amazed at the many similarities that exist in groups that hate each other based on a few prominent differences between them. Imagine if the (Christian) Catholics and (Christian) Protestants in Northern Ireland could calmly and logically discuss their various beliefs. After going down a LONG list of areas of agreement, doesn't it seem that they might see cause to stop killing each other, and possibly even 'get along'? But both sides there tend to be taught only one perspective on many subjects, and they say (often inaccurate) terrible things about the other side and THEIR beliefs. If BELIEVE can someday be an Instrument to assist in such future healthy understanding and communication, GREAT!!!
After I spent that extended time creating BELIEVE, my hopes were fairly modest. I hoped that a single person might renew his/her Christianity or a person might some day become a Christian, as a result of that effort. Each Soul is independently and individually valuable to the Lord. My goals are still directed toward the hopes of touching a single person. With the current heavy traffic in visitors to BELIEVE every day, I'm hoping the odds are good for this happening!
By the way, BELIEVE currently gets more than 25 times as many visitors as that woman's site. I suppose that means that if we would have loaded up BELIEVE chock-full of display advertising, we could be receiving over $100,000 each month, or over a million dollars each year! Impressive, but irrelevant here! Is THAT what we should be focusing the activities of BELIEVE about? I hope not! We FAR prefer the fact that BELIEVE has NEVER had any advertising, and we cannot imagine any circumstances where we would ever permit it. I guess it might be handy to have an extra million dollars available each year, but as I see it, the cost to BELIEVE and the Lord would be too great.
It might seem amusing to learn that in the 20 years between 1992 and 2011, BELIEVE (intentionally) received not a dime of income! Many wonderful people have offered, as you might expect, but we have always asked them to take the prospective Donation to a local Soup Kitchen or some local Church to give it there. Where others might be lusting over that million dollar plus per year income, we are at the other end of the spectrum, being very pleased that BELIEVE has not yet received a dime!
We think our Statement of Faith is thorough and comprehensive and extremely Bible-based. We hope that such beliefs always keep us on a proper Christian path, and that we avoid the worldly distractions that unfortunately seem to pollute the efforts of some Churches. They all do wonderful things for the Lord, but we wonder if they might be able to do even more! Hey! We aim high! Imagine what standards Jesus would set for a Church that He Taught in!
We actually hope that ALL Churches some day present their own Statements of Faith in such a clear and descriptive manner, and we have offered to give ANY Church the web-site source code programming so that they might put their own Statement of Faith into such a precise and informative form. (NOT OUR Statement of Faith, THEIRS, but presented in that clear and informative manner.)
I even see cause to feel warmth for many Jewish and Islamic religious organizations. In the process of reading and studying the many thousands of articles I considered for inclusion into BELIEVE, I learned many new things. For example, I had never before realized that Islam's Holy Book, the Koran, talks about Moses and Abraham and Jesus and Adam and a multitude of others I am familiar with as a Christian. I was surprised to see a generalized presentation of what I call the Ten Commandments in the Koran! (The general story of Moses and the Tablets is around the middle of Sura 7, al-Aaraf.) Further research has now absolutely convinced me (and most scholars) that Islam's Allah is one-and-the-same as who I call the Father. I have long known that the God of the Jews is also the one I call the Father. Each of our three religions describes the Lord as being the One True God of Abraham, where Abraham was the first true believer in Him. Fascinating! (I included a small part of the Koran in BELIEVE and I have highlighted text that seems especially interesting to Christians.)
Therefore, I have come to have respect for Muslims and Jews, because there is no doubt that they actually worship the same God I call the Father. I don't necessarily agree with their specific beliefs or procedures, but, as long as they are attempting to teach others to Praise and Honor God, I feel that they are doing Good. Of course, I personally greatly prefer Churches that recognize that Jesus is our Savior, but I am tempted to think that lack of that belief is more a result of incomplete religious presentation rather than improper religion.
Actually, I have a personal 'theory'! In studying Muhammad, I found that as a child, he was regularly exposed to Christian ideas since an older relative of his was a Devout Christian. However, at that time (around 600 AD), the Christian Church had many internal arguments about the validity of the Trinity and regarding the Nature of Jesus (Divine/mortal/combination). What if Muhammad had become very knowledgeable on Christian and Jewish beliefs, and most specifically, the First Commandment (One God)? What if he also did not understand the subtleties of the Trinity? He might easily have concluded that Jesus (who was treated by Christians as if He was God) was a challenge to the One God Commandment. With that conclusion, Jesus could have seemed to Muhammad to be blasphemous in confronting the First Commandment! As a first consequence, he instituted Islam's First Pillar, of very regularly stating that "there is One God", (Sura 1) which every Muslim today says many times every day. As a second consequence, Jesus was/is perceived as a "false God", something even we Christians would violently rebel against! I find it amazing and wonderful that virtually ALL of the remainder of Islam and Christianity match up remarkably well! Disregarding the violent extremists, Islam generally Teaches Peacefulness, and the vast majority of the billion of modern Muslims seem really good at behaving properly. Wouldn't that be interesting, that if Muhammad had had a more thorough understanding of the Trinity concept, he might have realized / recognized that Jesus WAS God (Allah), and so the Allah he worshipped had actually spent 30 years walking the Earth! My premise is that, had Muhammad fully understood the Trinity concept, Islam might today just be a version of Christianity! (Keep in mind that Christian scholars at the time were arguing over exactly what the Trinity meant!)
I am convinced that calm, informed dialogue might help individuals and cultures grow. Hopefully, rather than looking for reasons to kill each other, we might some day recognize the many parallels that exist in our various beliefs. BELIEVE is meant to try to plant some seeds in this regard.
As a child, I was taught that Islam was foreign, and therefore automatically bad. When I eventually came to understand that Muslims believe in the very same God that I do (my Father is their Allah, the God of Abraham), I was amazed. When I much later found that they revere Abraham and Moses and many others of my beliefs, I thought this is too much to just be a coincidence! Even Archangel Gabriel is Jibril to them, but one and the same. Even if these are just astounding coincidences, they are still interesting subjects to contemplate!
My Church and I are NOT affiliated with any specific Denomination. I feel it important that BELIEVE forever maintain this independent attitude.
Even though BELIEVE will not ever include links to external religious sites, we think BELIEVE could grow from information they have. If a group or organization wishes to offer some text (NOT a link!) for inclusion within BELIEVE, GREAT!!! If we approve it as adding to the clarity of a subject, without substantial bias, we would then add that text to BELIEVE (with proper authorship credit). Since the resultant text would then be within BELIEVE, we would be able to know that no one could later alter any of it without our knowledge.
You can probably see that our goal is to be like Consumers' Reports for religion, with as impartial a position as possible, and without any financial dependence on "advertisers" as such or major contributors that might expect some favors in return.
Religious Projects Index - Public Service
I hope each of them has some value. Specifically, I hope that two of them, Compatibility of Christianity and Science (Parallelism) and the Meaning of Life, might have significant value, They are each fairly long, and would print out to about 15 pages each. It is not that they have any new information, but rather suggest some new perspectives on information that has been long-known.
I like to think that my intentions and contributions always intend to add information or perspective to a reader. It is virtually NEVER my intention to try to cause anyone to stop believing something they presently believe. (The exceptions are subjects like satanism, etc.) I believe that often the actual Truth involves a larger perspective which INCLUDES our current beliefs AND some new ideas, possibly even including apparently contradictory ideas. I also believe that each reader has the intelligence to determine for themselves what that Truth is, given enough accurate background information. The Holy Spirit is always available to help in such Discernment.
Along the theme of our small Church, I try to LIVE a Christian life and not just be spouting impressive words on Sundays! As an example, it took me nearly a year to build up enough confidence to first do the following. I finally did in June, 2001, when I was in the checkout line at K-Mart. The man behind me in line seemed really nice, and he was clearly very tired for having just gotten off his shift at a factory. He was buying work boots, for around $35. I asked him if it would offend him if I offered to buy them for him. He and several cashiers and other customers seemed to just STOP! No one seemed to understand! So I explained to him that I felt the Lord had been very, very good to me in my life, and I believe that the Lord expects each of us to treat our neighbors far better than we commonly do. My gesture along that line is to make such an offer. It is not as though a Pastor of a tiny Church is loaded with cash! But where on Sundays, we Ministry are always mouthing off to people regarding how to be Christians, THIS is meant to be a personal demonstration of what that might look like!
The man was hesitant but then agreed. Once I had paid for his boots, and I handed him the receipt for them, he suddenly hugged me briefly! The experience, of behaving like a Christian is supposed to, made ME feel great! The man said he could not wait to go to work the next day to tell the other workers about this event! And even the cashier seemed really happy about what had happened!
Since then, I have made similar offers in grocery stores around 180 times in the following 10 years. Roughly half of those people have allowed me to do that. A couple have gotten offended, one even telling me that he could pay for his own groceries! Others have declined simply because they saw it as just too weird! It is sad that when someone tries to demonstrate good Christian behavior, that people sometimes find that cause for suspicion. Some clearly would think I would have gotten a soapbox out and started Preaching to them! Others clearly were sure that I was somehow intending to trick them and that I MUST only be doing that in order to get something back for myself.
I have a couple guidelines before making such an offer. There cannot be any cigarettes or alcohol in the groceries. The total bill needs to be in the $20 to $50 range. The person needs to seem either pleasant or where the attitude might be brightened from darkness by such a gesture. And basically food items being bought and not frivolous things like charcoal or dogfood!
I have made the same offer at a Subway Sandwich shop, maybe 250 times so far, and nearly all have allowed me to do my Good Deed! Only one, an Illinois State Cop seemed to get offended!
In several grocery stores and several Subways, the cashiers gradually got to know me and that I might make such an offer. So often when the person might show some immediate fear or confusion, the cashier now tends to reassure the person with something like "Oh, he does this sometimes!"
Personally, I suspect that such an event might accomplish far more Christian Teaching than even some of my very best Sermons! A number of the people have told me that they would some day do the same for someone else! Wow! Can it get any better than that? Of getting people to PLAN some future Christian behavior toward some other stranger?