In the years since the BELIEVE Project first began in 1992, I have
had the opportunity and responsibility of learning extensively about
a wide variety of Churches and Ministries. Much has been encouraging,
but there have also been disappointments. This essay is meant to
address some of those disappointments.|
One of the greatest complaints about the Catholic and Orthodox Churches is that they constantly repeat the same few themes, over and over and over, in rather abstract ways that many common people cannot personally relate to. Nothing ever changes! It is therefore seen, by go-go-go modern people, as being dull, old-fashioned and stale, and essentially as being nearly irrelevant in their own lives. Because the weekly Masses are so structured, all Catholic Churches (and all Orthodox Churches) essentially Teach the same Message each week. There is no diversity.
Modern people seem to generally insist on more. They want variety, they want vibrancy, they want Lessons that they can personally apply in their own lives. For better or worse, the majority of modern Protestant Churches seem to have altered their activities to feed such needs.
Every Sunday, in hundreds of thousands of (Protestant) Churches, Ministers and Pastors give Sermons on every manner of subject! Race relations (either direction), homosexuality (either direction, but usually against), drugs, tattoos, body piercings, terrorism, war, atrocities (all usually against), you name it, and on any given Sunday, there are a lot of Clergy giving Sermons on that topic.
There might not be any theoretical problem with such Lessons. However, there are some very serious practical problems. Protestant Churches all believe in sola Scriptura, a belief that ONLY the Bible contains truly reliable answers to life's important questions. So, every one of those Clergy regularly cites Scriptural Verses that (allegedly) are the foundation for important statements made in Sermons.
Now, IF a member of the Clergy is extremely alert to his/her responsibilities to the Lord about presenting the Word carefully and accurately, those Scriptural citations generally DO apply to the subject at hand and in the way the Minister or Pastor describes. However, it turns out that such "careful" presentations of Christian Lessons can tend to seem somewhat dull and repetitive.
Even worse, there seems to be a growing tendency to liberally cite many Scriptural Verses, which have minimal or no connection whatever with the subject being discussed. This seems to me to be outright deception and fraud, being committed with the alleged purpose of spreading the Word of Christian Faith. Wow! Could the Lord really approve of any level of deception or fraud being intentionally committed in His Name? Absolutely not!
However, such behavior on the part of Clergy tends to draw many people to their Churches. They see that as some sort of validation that they are doing Good, more new people being exposed to the Lessons of Christianity and all. They must certainly be wrong, if Christianity actually stands for ethics, principles and morals. I worry that, once a Church starts rapidly growing, there is a real (human) temptation that the central Clergy member might start thinking that HE is somehow specially important. When such a Church quickly goes from struggling to pay utility bills to having enormous weekly Collections, the Clergy member often sees this as God rewarding him for Christian efforts, and his attitudes and lifestyle often rapidly change. After that, what kind of Sermons could be expected in that Church? Dull, boring ones on Atonement or Covenants? Or popular, exciting ones on political issues or sex or how to earn more money?
An interesting aspect of this is that, there are no witnesses! In virtually all Churches, there is no written or video record made of whatever is said in a Sermon! Out of more than a million Clergy members in the United States, how many of them are really "loose cannons" in their Sermons? It seems certain that, every Sunday, there are probably thousands of Church Congregations that are Taught aberrant views of whatever that Clergy member happens to believe. In a few conservative white Churches, probably severe racism and bigotry. In a few black Churches, probably severe racism and bigotry. And, unless some Congregation member happens to complain (to who???), no one will ever find out! I can imagine the Sadness the Lord must feel regarding the fact that His Houses of Worship are certainly used to teach and encourage such hatred.
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Oh, that Church also taught that if anyone even considered any other Church, that also guaranteed eternal Damnation, so the mother was very worried regarding her (anonymously) contacting me at BELIEVE, and she wouldn't even think about changing to any other Church. It is hard to see ways to help such people as that mother and daughter, because of what a clearly aberrant Clergy member had drummed into them. My primary hope is that they might have had to move to some other part of the country, where they would have to find some other Church.
Do you realize that there is no structure that exists which would control such aberrant Clergy? Mostly because we Protestants intensely defend "freedom of religion". Unless there were some significant number of members of that Congregation who were willing to test that threat of eternal Damnation to try to complain somewhere, nothing will ever happen to change things in that Church. I find that incredibly sad, for the Congregation members of that Church, and in Churches like it. I have to believe the Lord is very sad, too.
The second primary reason that so many diverse (and peculiar?) subjects are discussed in Protestant Church Sermons these days has to do with the seeming vagueness of many Biblical Verses. And the fact that it is fairly large, being nearly 800,000 words. When a Minister or Pastor brings a personal agenda to the Pulpit, using some creative interpretation, it is possible to seem to develop Biblical support for EITHER side of almost any issue! Because of this, some Ministers, especially television Ministers, regularly cite many Scriptures as supporting whatever it is that they are on a soapbox for!
One recent example was aired on a Black-oriented Ministry. The program gave the impression that they had actual scholars describing some of their points, including giving dictionary definitions of various words, complete with page numbers of the dictionary! The impression they were building was that the Bible clearly described 400 years of slavery in America due to evil white people, and it seems likely that very few of their audience was knowledgeable enough to know that the 400 years referred to in the Old Testament was about ancient Jews (2500 years ago) being damaged and not modern Blacks. Therefore, their presentation, which was carefully arranged to appear extremely scholarly, certainly built their case to hate modern American white people. And there is not any law that would keep them from doing that! It is really not much different from radicals in the Mid-East teaching their young Muslim kids to hate Jews and Americans!
Considering how much effort they went to to give such an impression of building a solid Biblical foundation for hating white people, they made a number of glaring errors. One of their alleged experts spent several minutes discussing the enormous importance of a specific comma in an Old Testament text. That "expert" was not a very good expert, because all true scholars know that, until around 900 AD, the written Manuscripts of the Bible did NOT include any punctuation! Actually, it didn't contain capitalization either, and words and sentences were always written in "scriptua continua" where words and sentences did not have any spaces between or other indications of where one word or sentence ended and the next began. The idea of commas is so poor that it is laughable!
Another regular example is a popular television Ministry (often referred to by four capital letters), where every statement he makes is followed by a rapid fire list of Scriptural citations. He talks so fast that it is impossible to even hear all of them, so I taped several of his programs so I could keep re-playing his Scriptural citations to check them out. They certainly sound extremely impressive, and give the impression that he has a lightning quick mind and an absolute mastery of Scripture. But regarding one statement of his where he stated that the Bible completely described that radio waves from the planet Jupiter took 0.0047 seconds to travel from one place to another, I was especially intrigued. I do not recall any references in my King James Bible regarding the planet Jupiter, especially since ancient people had no idea it was even a planet! And I do not recall any reference to radio waves, or of any time interval that was measured in milliseconds. When I checked all of his Scriptural references, not had any connection whatever with any of those ideas! They were apparently simply random Scriptural references! My previous respect for that Ministry disappeared, since he seemed to be using deception to try to impress viewers with how excellent he was. That could only be for selfish personal motives, as the Lord would never approve of using deception, for ANY reason!
However, in the vast diversity of modern Churches, 330,000 in America alone, and in the even greater diversity of personalities of the 1,300,000 Clergy members in the United States, it seems that some Ministers and Pastors feel motivated to use their Churches to advance their own personal views regarding society. If that person has racist attitudes (either direction) then he/she has a somewhat captive audience, who tends to accept virtually any statement he/she makes as being FROM GOD! If that Minister or Pastor feels personally motivated regarding ANY political or social issue, he/she has the ideal situation in which to promote those personal views, and is even likely to develop many "apostles" regarding that issue. That's great, if it is some admirable goal, like feeding the poor or educating disadvantaged kids. But it can be horrific if the personal views which are promoted are hate-driven or motivated. It would not surprise me if some future inner city communities start having vigilante posses (from Churches) patrolling the streets of their communities. The reasoning will be presented to them that the Police cannot do the job and so they would need to take over. As soon as lynchings and retribution murders start occurring, a sense of anarchy could be everywhere. I dread thinking that the Lord's Churches can very likely be the source of such terrible things in the future.
I am tempted to think that the Free Press might be the only safeguard regarding all these sorts of things. A complaint to the Police about anything that occurred inside a Church would not result in much, because the Police are all taught to stay away from all religious activities (Church and State issues in the Constitution). Complaints to a Mother Church can sometimes have effect, if the offense is extremely serious and if the Mother Church is socially responsible, but generally, little real effect would come from that either. In general, Churches protect their own, and at worst, a scolding letter might get sent to a Minister who had given a racist Sermon. After all, what actual evidence existed that the accusation was true, and why were there no other complaints?
This reasoning eliminates everything except reporters and the media. They are also extremely cautious about publishing criticism of any religious organization, because such actions tend to cause retaliatory lawsuits. However, if a reporter can establish that your complaints are true, his/her inquiries to the Church, and the possibility of publication, represents a lot more challenge that one individual Church Member could likely represent.
In any event, this all appears to be a very serious problem that needs to be addressed by the Christian community. Of those 330,000 Churches, there are clearly countless thousands of wonderful Churches, which carefully Teach what the Lord intended. All those Churches are to be applauded. The ones that take the available opportunity for abuse of the unique position afforded religious organizations in America must certainly be condemned, and even somehow punished, if the Christian Church as a whole is to properly act in the Lord's Name.
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C Johnson, Pastor
A Christ Walk Church
Webmaster, BELIEVE Religious Information Source web-site