IFB Memories #12: Church and politics

There’s always been a tension within Christianity regarding what kind of a relationship the church should have with politics and the state. The early Reformers unfortunately adopted the Roman Catholic viewpoint that the state was the divinely ordained agent of the church. That concept still lingers in varying degrees throughout the West but especially in the United States. European countries still have official state-supported denominations although few people attend services.

In American evangelicalism today, at one end of the spectrum are Christians who argue the church and state should work hand in glove; elect Christian-friendly politicians, ensure the appointment of Christian-friendly judges, and legislate laws that reflect Judeo-Christian beliefs and values. At the other end of the spectrum are Christians who argue the job of the church is to evangelize and disciple and not to become entangled in worldly concerns. We are ambassadors of our Father in Heaven on a mission to evangelize, not to be deeply-rooted, nationalistic patriots.

My wife and I accepted Christ back in the early-1980s and we began attending an independent fundamental Baptist church that patterned itself after Jerry Falwell (pictured) and his Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. Falwell and his Moral Majority were so focused on championing conservative causes that the Gospel was relegated to the back seat. Co-belligerency alongside religious unbelievers (e.g., conservative Catholics) eventually contributed to an “ecumenism of the trenches” as Chuck Colson once approvingly noted.

Our pastor regularly mixed the Gospel with politics from the pulpit. America was presented as a Christian nation that was in a covenant with God in the very same way as was ancient Israel. Old Testament passages meant only for Israel were regularly misapplied to the United States. Our church was heavily involved with New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a political advocacy group supported by IFB and conservative evangelical churches in the state (see last article below). During election years, candidates from both parties were invited to our church to discuss their political positions but only Republicans bothered to show up. That church’s heavy involvement in politics and the constant harangues about the culture wars from the pulpit led to our decision to leave, among other reasons.

I don’t know exactly where the line is regarding the church’s involvement with politics and the state but I’m quite happy politics are never mentioned from the pulpit of our current church.

I’m currently reading “The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America” by Frances FitzGerald, which was published in April. It’s a history of evangelicalism in America from an unbeliever’s perspective. It’s not always complimentary but the facts are fascinating, especially regarding the struggle to determine the church’s relationship with the state. Review to follow.

Below are a few articles that touch upon this church-state dichotomy:

With God on Their Side: How Evangelicals Entered American Politics

Don’t compromise the gospel in social cooperation

Evangelicals gather in Albany

To all the Moms and Grandmas…

Today, I’m thinking about my Mom who died a little over three years ago. Mom taught me many things but most of all she taught me about unconditional love. Mom wasn’t just my mother but she was also my buddy and my biggest fan. Sniff.

Mom didn’t talk about God or religion much. Whenever we spoke to her about the Lord, she said such topics were personal and weren’t to be discussed. When my wife and I visited her in Florida for the last time, a couple of months before her death, she was deep in the clutches of Alzheimer’s disease. But one day when we were struggling to have a conversation with her, she turned to us and recited Psalm 23 in its entirety, word for word. “The Lord is my Shepherd…” I hope Mom truly accepted the Shepherd.

My wife is a wonderful mother to our two sons and four grandchildren. I’m blessed to have her as my wife. What a gift she is!

To all of you Moms and Grandmas out there, I wish you a very happy Mother’s Day! There is nothing in this world like the tender love of a Mom.

“Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.” – Proverbs 31:28

Weekend Roundup – News & Views – 5/13/17

Pope Francis is visiting Fatima, Portugal this weekend to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the alleged Marian apparition there. The pope is capitalizing on the big event by announcing the “canonization” to sainthood of two of the three persons who claimed to have been visited by the “Queen of Heaven,” Francisco and Jacinta Marto. Praise the Lord for the Christians who made the journey to Fatima to witness to some of the 1 million Catholic “pilgrims.” Catholics plead to “Mother Mary” for peace in the world but the only peace to be found is the spiritual peace that comes through accepting Jesus Christ as personal Savior. We’re always mindful of the millions of Catholics who are deceived followers of religious legalism rather than followers of Christ and we pray for their salvation.

The category, “Practicing Christians,” includes many non-believing religionists, but there’s no doubt that “New Spirituality” is also reaching into evangelical congregations.

Liberal Catholic congregations are already accepting of gay relationships. Evangelical churches will have to decide if they’re going to follow God’s Word on this or cave to societal pressure. Thanks, Maria!

The U.S. Catholic church is hemorrhaging membership with no end in sight. In order to stanch the exodus, Francis is minimizing doctrine in favor of “feel-good” religiosity.

Catholic street evangelists have the tough job of selling a VERY BAD product as per the following illustrative exchange:

“Excuse me sir, would you be interested in becoming a Catholic?”

“What do I need to do?”

“Just go to a year’s worth of religious classes, get baptized and confirmed, go to mandatory church every Sunday and receive the eucharist so you can obtain graces to help you avoid sin so that you can hopefully merit Heaven when you die. But of course you probably will sin, so you’ll need to confess your big sins to a priest regularly and of course there’s always purgatory for your small sins. And also keep in mind you’ll have to…etc., etc., etc.”

Conservative Catholics are champing at the bit for a new pope as Francis continues to sling pot shots at them.

A funny one but not far from the truth in today’s seeker mega-churches.

Dead bones religion

I just love me a good sermon from the Word of God from a Spirit-filled preacher. If you know the Lord and you’ve been to a Jesus-preaching, Gospel-focused, evangelical church with a pastor who has surrendered his heart to God, you know what I’m talking about. A Spirit-filled, godly evangelical preacher can expound on a single Bible verse for an hour and believers’ hearts will dance with joy at His Word.

Sadly, millions of people attend churches – Catholic and most mainline Protestant – where the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone is never preached. Congregants will hear snippets of the Bible and some platitudes about the God of love and being a good neighbor, but there are no convicting words from Scripture about their sinful condition and no invitation to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior by faith alone.

Have you ever attended a Catholic mass? As part of the formalities, the priest gives a short talk called a “homily” (from the Greek homilia – to have communion or hold intercourse with a person). The Vatican advises its clergy to limit their homilies to around eight minutes so as to leave enough time for all of the many rituals of the 45-minute mass.

A homily’s listenability varies widely depending on the priest. Many of these men are socially withdrawn and were initially attracted to the priesthood because of the isolation it offered. Public speaking is generally not their forte. Beyond that, none of these priests preach the Good News! of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Rather, they propagate a joyless religious system of sacramental grace and merit that leads no one to Heaven.

I was browsing the internet the other day and came across podcasts of the homilies from Peace of Christ Catholic parish. Peace of Christ incorporates three former parishes on the eastside of Rochester, N.Y., including the one I attended as a child and teen. Below is a link to the 9-minute homily given by current pastor, “father” Robert Schrader, on Sunday, April 30, 2017. I invite you to take a listen, even for only a couple of minutes if you’re pressed for time. Argh, this brings back memories of so many Christ-less Sunday mornings! Schrader is obviously reading his prepared homily from a sheet of paper. It’s excruciatingly dry and boring. There’s no joy, no passion, and most importantly, no Gospel of salvation by grace through faith! As a believer, I recoil from this message that’s spiritually DOA.

Take a listen to Schrader’s homily below. You’ll be amazed.

Robert Schrader, homily for 4/30/17

It’s a chore for Catholics to have to sit through these tedious, monotone homilies as well as the accompanying dead liturgical rituals of the mass. Many Catholics legitimately ask themselves, “Why bother?,” when their pope teaches that even atheists can merit Heaven if they follow their consciences and are “good.” Catholic sources report only 20% of Catholics attend obligatory weekly mass while a whopping 56% say they attend mass only “a few times a year,” “rarely,” or “never.”

Praise God, there’s an alternative to “dead bones” religion. His name is Jesus Christ. God the Son came into this world and lived a perfect life so that He could offer it up as a sacrifice for your sins and mine. But Jesus rose from the grave, conquering sin and death, and offers eternal life and fellowship with God as a free gift to all those who accept Him by faith alone. No one can merit Heaven by trying to follow the Ten Commandments or their conscience. No one. Go to Jesus in prayer and accept Him as your Savior by faith alone and then ask the Lord to help you find an evangelical church in your area that preaches God’s Word without compromise.

Come and see!

There was a man who walked on this Earth about two-thousand years ago named Jesus. In fact, every time you write the date on a check you attest to the reality of his existence. There are some today who say he was a great teacher. Others say he was a prophet. But Jesus claimed to be much more than that. He said he was God the Son and the ONLY WAY to eternal life.

What if He was right? What would that mean for you? People all over the world have an opinion about Jesus but wouldn’t you want to know what He taught for yourself?

Come and see about Jesus.

“Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” – John 1:38-39

Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” – John 4:29

“Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good (like Jesus) come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” – John 1:46

Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man.” – Psalm 66:5

Who is Jesus? Come and see!

Chasing after “hip spirituality”

I’ve always loved to read. Even before I was a teenager, I used to like to hop on a bus into downtown Rochester N.Y. and stop at all the bookstores and news/magazine stores. There were a quite a few of them. Well things have changed quite a bit since the 1960s. There are no longer any bookstores downtown, in fact there’s hardly anything downtown except for some government buildings, lawyers’ offices, and many, many empty buildings. There aren’t any bookstores in the suburbs either except for a couple of Barnes and Nobles. With all the information on the internet and Amazon corralling the remaining hardcopy readers, bookstores and magazine racks are almost a thing of the past.

I still like to peruse the small magazine rack at our local supermarket. Yesterday, I saw a special edition from Newsweek titled “Spirituality Now.” Curious, I picked it up and leafed through it quickly just to see how Newsweek defines “spirituality.” Well, the entire magazine was about Eastern religions and New Age mysticism. A few of the names I recognized were Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle, and Ram Dass; the usual suspects. Was there any mention of Christianity in this “Spirituality Now” special edition? No, not a mention. Eastern religions and New Age mysticism are seen as “hip” and “cutting edge.” Christianity? It’s viewed by many as “yesterday’s news” but how wrong they are.

Most Americans are chasing after some kind of meaning to their life but won’t consider Jesus Christ. They surely won’t find any fulfillment in the words of Chopra, Tolle, or Dass.

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10

“For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” –  Acts 17:23

Wheat and grapes ONLY!!! Another case of straining for gnats but missing salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone.

For Catholics, the mass is the absolute centerpiece of their belief system. During the ritual, the priest allegedly changes bread wafers and wine into the literal body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. The attendees then line up to consume the Jesus wafers and wine, believing that, during the fifteen minutes their stomach acids are breaking them down, the consecrated elements impart graces that will enable them to avoid sin so that they will hopefully be able to merit Heaven.

This morning, I was listening to the 11/27/13 podcast of “Calling All Catholics” talk radio show (The Station of the Cross, WLOF, 101.7 FM, Buffalo, NY) with moderator Mike Denz and host, Catholic priest, Peter Calabrese, taking questions from listeners, and a couple of interesting questions came up regarding the bread wafers and wine used in the Catholic mass.

Mike Denz: “We have a question from Pauline who emailed us and she wants to know,…during Prohibition in the United States…did priests have access to wine for communion and, if not, did they only consecrate the hosts? And then the second (question) is, what do priests do for communion if they are in regions that do not have access to the standard bread and wine?”

Priest Calabrese responded that during Prohibition there were no restrictions on alcoholic wine for religious purposes. Regarding the second question, Calabrese said church law mandates the bread wafers used at mass can only be made from wheat flour and the wine can only be made from grapes.

Catholic Canon Law #924 states, “The Most Sacred Eucharistic Sacrifice must be celebrated with bread and wine, with which a small quantity of water is to be mixed. The bread must be made of wheat alone recently made so that there is no danger of corruption. The wine must be natural wine of the grape and not corrupt.”

If wheat wafers and grape wine are not readily available in a certain locale, they must be imported. Calabrese noted that an exception was made when the Jesuits exported Catholicism to the Far East in the 16th century and wheat and grapes were not available so rice wafers and rice wine were substituted, but this was only a temporary measure and was eventually rescinded.

What this means is, if the elements are made with something other than wheat and grapes, then the sacrament is “invalidated.” The priest can only change the elements into Jesus if they are made from wheat flour and grapes!

Oy vey.

No, I’m not making any of this up (see the article below).

The Catholic doctrine that priests change bread wafers and wine into the literal body and blood of Jesus, a woefully faulty interpretation of John 6 and the Last Supper passages, and that physically eating these elements imparts eternal life, defies a spiritual understanding of Scripture on many levels. Belief/trusting in Christ as Savior by faith alone is the meaning of John 6, not eating Jesus wafers. And the painfully scrupulous particularity regarding the ingredients of the elements just further illustrates the fact that Catholicism took a terribly wrong turn with all of this.

But the Catholic system is FILLED with these types of technical particularities that rival the elaborate legalities of the Pharisees of first-century Judea. I’m so glad Jesus freed me from the chains of Catholic legalism and ritual. Religious sacraments and ceremony don’t save. Accept Jesus Christ as your Savior today.

Do hosts used for the Holy Eucharist have to be made of wheat?