Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Encourage One Another

The scriptures are filled with many admonitions to encourage one another, one Christian to another. Hebrews 3:13, 1 Thess 3:3,4:18,5:11,

These verses show a context to the word 'encourage'. We tend to think of it as 'cheer up' but it has more to do with the root 'courage'. Encourage and exhort are pretty much synonyms in the NT. These verses talk about encouraging one another with the Gospel message of hope and the promise of a life with God after the persecutions and trials of this world. To try to encourage a non-believer without the gospel would be more like telling a dying cancer patient to cheer up and he'll be okay. Wouldn't it be more encouraging to confirm their dire state instead of ignoring and then offer the cure, the gospel?

So, one way to practice Five Minute Ministry in a very practical way is to send an encouraging card, one that builds their faith in Christ, strengthens them in the midst of trials, and exhorts them to further good works in Christ.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Point-Counter Point on Catholic prayers to the Saints

It is worth reading first to see what their thinking and arguments are so we can understand and be able to address what they believe and not just what we think they believe.

Here is a tract by Catholic Answers on praying to the saints from a Roman Catholic viewpoint:
http://www.catholic.com/tracts/praying-to-the-saints

Here is a Protestant counter point article answering the above.  You might want to think what your answers would be first before reading this to test your own reason and knowledge of the subject.
http://bnonn.thinkingmatters.org.nz/3-reasons-christianity-plus-prayer-to-saints-equals-polytheism/


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Interaction with Mormon elders on the street.


Jeff Durbin of Apologia Radio does a great job of working with Mormon elders on the street.  You'll notice that he's memorized a number of references.  That may be a bit challenging for most people to accomplish but I'd like you to pay more attention to his attitude than his arguments.  Even if you don't have all the references memorized you can still have his patience and compassion when you interact with Mormon elders.

Friday, April 6, 2012

5MM Class - Jehovah's Witnesses


Welcome to this class I call Five Minute Ministry where I concentrate on how you can faithfully witness the truth of Christ in five minutes. This session is intended to help you prepare for those knocks at the door by the local Jehovah’s Witnesses.

First a joke: There were these two Jehovah's Witnesses ladies going door-to-door. As they left a home and walked back onto the sidewalk they ran into a pair of young Mormon missionaries coming their way. The two women stopped and told the young men with a dismissive tone, “We don't move for false witnesses!” The two young Mormons looked at each other and said, “Well, we do.” and then walked around them.

I developed an interest in reaching out to Jehovah's Witnesses, not out of curiousity, but of necessity.  My father, sister and step-mother all became JW's many years ago and I did not know what to do to discourage their interest in it or yet how to convince them to leave.  Family members are the hardest to reach and I'll likely never be able to reach my own family but maybe we can be the answers to some other Christian's prayer and reach their family member.  

I'm not going to spend a lot of time on the history and doctrines of the JW's because you can find a thousand resources on that. I want to spend most of my time on how you can faithfully respond to them.

It is often said that if you meet one JW then you’ve met them all. Even though this video is kind of cheesy 70’s style it still accurately and concisely shows JW beliefs. You also have a short summary on your handout of them as well as a short history of The Watchtower Society. We have limited time for this class so I won't go through that background material that you can easily find elsewhere. 

   
This may seem quite odd that they would believe this but no JW ever was confronted with all of this before they joined the church and had committed to it. The brainwashing over the years makes them trust the Watchtower Society teachings and not trust or develop their own thinking.

What we are going to learn in this class is essentially apologetics.  Apologetics simply means to make a defense for the faith. Apologetics is used to clear away the obstacles and false beliefs that are a barrier to the gospel message. It is sometimes described that coming to understand the gospel is like arriving in a beautiful garden but the paths to it are crowded by thorny vines and thistles barring the way. Apologetics helps clear that path but it isn't the gospel message. 

 
“And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,”
                                   - 2 Timothy 2:24-25
First, our attitude must not be quarrelsome, as in seeking a fight, debating for the purpose of winning an argument. You must be kind. Mormon expert, Bill McKeever, says that you want to demonstrate the type of kindness that if your opponent does change their mind and agrees with you that they would want to sit next to you in church. You must be able to teach, as in knowing what you believe well enough to explain it to others. You must patiently endure the heresy, their slander, their attacks, their baiting you to make you mad, etc.. If your opponent is unable to answer your challenges then they may feel they can win if they can make you stumble and sin in your anger. All of this deals with your attitude. 

The main thing in this verse then is correcting your opponents with gentleness. You must challenge their erroneous beliefs and correct them. If they claim the Bible is full of errors you’ll need to correct them. For example, many atheists and agnostics now find it popular to claim that Jesus is just a myth modeled after prior gods like Horus, Isis, and Mithras. With a bit of study this can be easily refuted but you’ll need to do some homework. Even if you don’t know the details of their beliefs, ask them to explain it to you. Then sometimes simple logic will allow you to correct their views. For example, Mormons believe that God was once a man who grew up on a planet made by a previous god who was once a man who grew up on another planet made by another god, and so on going back in eternity. This is plainly illogical since you can’t have an infinite series of real events in time going back into eternity and we have strong evidence to support that our universe began at one time and is not infinitely old. I asked some Mormon missionaries about this very concept and asked how they ever got the first god who wasn’t created because there couldn’t have been a planet for that first god to be a man on. I made it clear that this was a real problem and was a non-starter for me and unless they had an answer to something that basic then I wasn’t interested in the rest of their message. I hope that left a stone in their shoe that would continue to bug them. 

Second, in the order is that God 'may perhaps' grant them repentance. This is a work of God. None of what we do will be the silver bullet that changes their minds. God will do that in his sovereignty. This reinforces that we should never go into these challenges without praying first and asking God to intervene. What must they repent of? The same thing we all must repent of, our sins and our false faith in something that doesn't save like our good works, our good intentions, our sincerely held but wrong beliefs. 

Lastly, after they have been corrected and repented of their false beliefs then they are lead to a knowledge of the truth. If you haven't followed these two steps first and just share the gospel then this may be a case of casting pearls before swine. You may have asked them to repent before God and ask His forgiveness and put their trust in Jesus but they are following a different God and a different Jesus. They will have just gone deeper into their devotion to a false faith and have their trust placed in something that can't save them. If they do repent of their false religion then they need the truth to catch them. Most people that leave the cults then just distrust any religious faith or, strangely, they still hold a strong allegiance to the cult and just view themselves as a failure to live up to the high standards that were expected of them. So, just getting someone out of a cult doesn't get them any closer to salvation. They may even be more hardened to the gospel than before if this Biblical model isn't followed. 

The main challenge in correcting a cultist is that you can't really teach them anything. Why should they listen to you? God speaks to them out of Brooklyn, N.Y., or Salt Lake City, or wherever. The best way to challenge someone who has a false belief is the way Jesus did, by asking them questions so they will realize they don't have a good answer from their divine authorities. These questions should be honest questions, not just set up questions like the ones that the religious authorities used to try to trap Jesus. Jesus would often answer those questions with a question that would challenge their beliefs. I'll give you an example of how a cultist can be challenged with a good question. A former JW, Charles Smith spoke at a PFO conference in St. Louis, and said he had spoken with another former JW of forty years and he asked him when he first began to question the Watchtower Society. This man immediately recalled the event and said, “Thirty-three years ago a good Christian woman asked me a question I couldn't answer. She asked me, “Why do you think it was so important to Jesus that you be born again?” and I didn't have an answer for that and it bugged me.” 

As I thought about my family members going door-to-door I wondered if they would hear good questions that would get them to think for themselves and question the Watchtower Society too. But would it take thirty-three years too? What if this man had had another good question every other week or so then isn't it more likely he'd have left the Watchtower in three years instead of thirty-three? God, in His providence, might have granted this man repentance much more quickly in response to the faithfulness of his servants. It has been well-said that cults are the unpaid bills of the Church. We haven't done a good job in teaching sound doctrine and confronting the errors that arise and so we must faithfully start paying those debts now. Frankly, though, most Christians should not sit down and have Bible studies with JW's or Mormons who are trained to twist you, confuse you, and mislead you. Even a very knowledgeable Christian will find these studies very, very frustrating unless they are well prepared. But every Christian can take five minutes to be kind and courteous and ask a few challenging questions they will have to think about. What are these silver bullet questions?
                                               NO SILVER BULLETS!
There are none. No silver bullets. Remember, it is only God that has the ability to bring them to repentance. 

For this class, I'm asking that you have a KJV Bible set aside just for those knocks at the door by the JW's or Mormons.  Why use a KJV Bible? 


First, the JW's use their own heavily corrupted version of the Bible called The New World Translation. The Watchtower Society has changed a great number of verses to conform to their doctrines. In other words, they cheated. It is also a really hard to read version which I think is intentional. They don’t want their members to read the Bible on their own so they’ve made it harder. If the Witnesses want to use that Bible you could tell them you don’t want to because only the Watchtower Society thinks it is a valid translation (a little dig at them) but the Watchtower Society does print the KJV Bible so that should be okay with them, right?

Second, The Mormons also only use the KJV of the Bible.  This doesn't mean that they trust it completely but they will be more familiar with it and may eliminate some arguments about the translations of some verses. 

Even as much as I've studied the questions you want to ask a Mormon or JW, when they actually come to the door I can't remember what it was I was supposed to ask them. Even if you had them come to the door six hours from now you would probably not be able to remember what the questions were you should ask, much less six weeks or six months from now. But, if you write these questions down in the front of that KJV Bible you'll know you are ready when they come the next time so you can just whip that out and say, “Oh, I'm so glad you're here. I had this question on my mind that I've been wanting to ask someone from your religion so could you help me?” Their faces will probably just light up at being received so kindly after all the negative reactions they've had all day and they'll want to be helpful. 

Now, you'll just be planning on spending five minutes or so with them no matter how well it seems to be going. 


If you do want to have a longer conversation you probably should make an appointment for a time to meet and get into meatier stuff then because they might actually have another appointment to get to or if they don't like where it is heading they may just say they need to get to another appointment anyway and excuse themselves. So, this strategy is for five minutes of faithfully putting 2 Timothy 2:24-25 into practice. 


If you do want to make an appointment to meet later, tell them you just want the same people to come each time so you don't have to go over old material a second time. If they show up with someone else, remind them of your agreement and tell them you'll meet next week if they want to follow your rules. You may also want to get their phone number in case you need to change your appointment.

You also don't want to talk about other groups and their beliefs but you just want to discuss what the Watchtower Society teaches and the Bible. The Watchtower society will often use arguments against the Roman Catholic church to make their points.

Third, you reserve the right to do whatever research you can because you want to know the truth.

Don’t let them take over the discussion. You don’t need to doing all the talking but you must decide what you are going to be talking about, not them. It is your house and your time they want to use so stay in control of it. 

The strategy we'll learn in this class, though, is for just five minutes of faithfully putting 2 Timothy 2:24-25 into practice.

So, let's get to some of the questions you'll want to ask the JW's who come to your door.

Write down in the front of your Bible: “JW Questions”

The first question should be “Why are you a Jehovah's Witness?” You may use that information later but you should be asking this to remind you that this is a person made in the image of God and they are on the wrong path as you once were. How did they get there? Were they a convert? Born into a Witness family? How long have they been a JW? This can help you make this encounter a gentle, loving one on your part.

Next write:
- Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?
They may say they have one or not but this points to Jesus.

- Do you pray to Jesus?
Cultists do not pray to Jesus. They pray to Jehovah or the Father.

- If you don't, how do have a relationship with someone you never speak to?

This is common sense. You can't have a relationship with someone you never speak to. Keep coming back to that if you need to.

You don't want to get into Bible Ping Pong in arguing over Bible verses but there are many to support praying to Jesus. As you write down the questions and verses I’ll read them for you and tell why these verses are important.  Write down the bold type.

1 Tim 2:5 (mediator) “For there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” -- How do you have a mediator that you never talk to?

Jn 14:13:14 (Ask) “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” Jesus said to ask him directly, not the Father.

Jn 5:39,40 (come to me) “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” -- Jesus said to come to him to have life. This is a particularly convicting verse for the JW because they do believe that eternal life does rest in taking in knowledge of the Father, not personal, saving knowledge of the savior.

Jn 5:22,23 (honor me) “Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.” -- This is a powerful verse because, though the JW may rightfully claim that they honor the Son, they certainly do not honor the Son ‘just’ as they honor the Father. They don’t worship the Son or pray to the Son.

Acts 7:59 (Stephen) “And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.“ -- Stephen saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God, but he prayed to Jesus, not to the Father.

1 Cor 1:2 (call on the name) “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:” This is a powerful verse because the OT usage of ‘call upon the name of the LORD’ was calling upon Yahweh. This verse identifies Jesus Christ as Yahweh but that is too big of a subject for our five minutes with the JW.

This line of questioning could be made very personal by pointing out that the Watchtower Society tells them they do not have Jesus as their mediator, they tell them not to ask Jesus in prayer for anything, they tell them not to come to Jesus to have eternal life and they don't give Jesus the same honor as the Father and thus are not allowed to give honor to the Father. You could plead with them, “If Jesus were standing here right now asking you to come to him, would you do it? If he were here asking you to talk to him and share your desires for salvation and his righteousness, would you do it? If Jesus was standing here offering to intercede for you with the Father and bid you to come to him to have eternal life would you give him the honor and worship he asks for and deserves? As I see it, the Watchtower tells you to say no, no, no, and stands in the way between you and Jesus. Why don't you ask Jesus directly for what you need and want and trust him to do what he promised for those that love him?” This could be the most gentle and loving correction that you can do for the JW because you are not saying they are doing something wrong but that the Watchtower Society is the one who is doing the wrong in making them not follow Jesus’ teachings.


I don’t know if you listen to the Bible Answer Man but he gives bad advice about talking to JW’s. He says to defend the trinity with them but that is awful advice.

Don't get pulled into a discussion of the Trinity with the JW's even if you can expertly support the doctrine. Them's fightin' words to a JW. You won’t have a rational discussion if you get on that topic.

If they are trying to force the issue then ask them how the doctrine was arrived at. They won't know but will say it was some pagan whatever. You can tell them they obviously don't know how it was arrived at. It was arrived at systematically and they aren't ready for that discussion so you don't want to discuss that with them right now. You also don't want to talk about hell, or blood transfusions, or Christmas, or lots of other non-essential issues. Instead you should discuss the bodily resurrection of Jesus. It isn’t essential to understand and believe in the trinity to become a Christian but the gospel does rely upon the bodily resurrection of Jesus. 

Here's a question you can ask about that:
“If Jesus was resurrected as an invisible spirit, like the Watchtower teaches, why did Jesus say he was going to raise his physical body from the dead (John 2:19-22)?”
All these questions should make it clear that the problem is caused by the Watchtower, not their error. If this question starts the ball rolling then you may want to make an appointment to discuss it more but you can also wrap it up by saying something like:

“The apostle Paul said that if Christ has not been raised (and the Jews understood this only as a bodily resurrection) then our faith is futile and we are still in our sins. (1 Cor 15:17) Jesus said he'd be raised bodily and I believe that he was. The Watchtower says Jesus was wrong so Paul would say you are still in your sins. I'll pray to Jesus for you. Good day.”
You don't have to be drawn into a foolish argument with them. You do have a responsibility to be kind, able to teach, and to gently correct. You don't have a responsibility to draw this out for weeks of studies you may not be prepared for. If you've been faithful for five minutes then you may have planted seeds for others to water or harvest.

A third question:

“Has anyone ever become a JW by reading the Bible alone without the aid of Watchtower materials?”

The answer is no. In fact you can use a quote from the Watchtower here that admits that the Bible teaches orthodox Christian belief and not Watchtower doctrines. I put it in your handout so you can copy this quote into your Bible later.

“I found this quote, "From time to time, there have arisen from among the ranks of Jehovah's people those, who, like the original Satan, have adopted an independent, faultfinding attitude... They say that it is sufficient to read the Bible exclusively, either alone or in small groups at home. But, strangely, through such 'Bible reading,' they have reverted right back to the apostate doctrines that commentaries by Christendom's clergy were teaching 100 years ago..." (Watchtower, Aug. 15, 1981, p. 29).

Isn't the Watchtower then saying that the Bible teaches the trinity, hell, and that we are saved by faith alone in Christ alone and not by our works?

They certainly are saying that but you won’t get them to admit this but the goal is just to get them to think for themselves a bit and question what the Watchtower is teaching them.


Next question: Tell the JW that you want to ask them about a Bible verse and get their opinion. Go to 1 John 5:1 “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God,…”

It will not do any good trying to ask if the JW is born-again. They will deflect that question back to you and ask what you mean by born-again and twist it. I fell into that trap the last time I asked it. A better question would be “Does the Watchtower Society consider you to be born of God, or born again, by their definition?” Don’t let them ask you for your definition, ask for theirs. They know what you are getting at by this question and they don’t want to go there.  

Jesus and the rest of the NT writers are very clear, either you are born of God, or you remain a child of the devil. You could go over 1 Jn 3:9-10 to make that clear. 


“No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.”
There are only two groups, children of God who are born again of God, and children of the devil.

This next question is an example of taking the Bible and showing a person that they don't really believe what the Bible says. You can take a Bible verse and put it into a question without interpreting it and you’ll see that they don’t agree with what the Bible teaches.

1 Timothy 2:5 says that “There is one God, and one mediator between man and God, the man Christ Jesus”. So this is saying that Jesus, who rose bodily from the grave and ascended bodily to heaven is still a man and the Son of God in one person. If you then ask, “I believe Jesus is a man right now in heaven. Don't you agree?” (1 Tim 2:5) and then they say ‘no’ then you can show them that they aren't believing what the Bible is saying but believing what the Watchtower told them to think instead.

You could as easily ask, “I believe you have to be born again if you're going to see the kingdom of God, don't you agree?” John 3:3 “In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

The point here is not to make debate points but to show them that they are believing what the Watchtower says despite what the Bible says. 

Next question to write down:  What is the gosel that you preach? (Ask them to repeat it, and again once more. 1 Cor 15:1-8; Gal 1:6-9; 2 Cor 4:3,4)


This is the most confrontational tactic that you can take but you might want to use it when you likely wouldn't get a second chance to talk with them anyway such as when you might meet a Witness out on the street away from home. I heard this from Paul Washer who admitted he gets very annoyed with JW's because they teach a false gospel. He asks them to state simply what is the gospel they preach so he's sure he understands it. He then asks them to repeat it. He then recites it back to them and asks if he has it right. Then he goes to 1 Cor 15:1-8

“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” 1 Cor 15:1-8
Then Paul Washer would tell them that their gospel had none of that and the apostle Paul had more to say about your gospel message in Gal 1:6-9  


“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!”        Gal 1:6-9
The JW may claim then that they believe the same things but you can point out they had three chances to get the message right but didn't. Paul Washer then tells them “I know why your gospel message doesn't match the one that the apostles taught. It says why in 2 Cor 4:3,4  


"And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”  2 Cor 4:3,4
Satan has blinded them and they deny the glory of Christ who is the image of God and the light of the gospel. This is a hard message but sometimes a hard message is needed for a hard heart. This questioning of their gospel could be used like a bludgeon and send them scurrying down the sidewalk or you could use it the right way and show that the good news is only good because the bad news is so very bad.


This question shouldn't be used just for Jehovah's Witnesses and other cultists. I heard a podcast of a show called “The Whitehorse Inn” and they had sent a pollster to a pastor's conference to ask “What is the gospel?” Fewer than one in ten had an answer that was even close to the gospel described in 1 Cor 15. R.C. Sproul was listening to that show on the radio while he was driving on a highway and he had to pull over to the side of the road and cry. It was so unbelievably sad that many of the men we are counting on to teach the gospel in our churches can’t define it. I'm afraid that if you asked this question to all the pastors in town you would probably get the same level of responses. So, it is not just the cultists who have denied the gospel and perverted it, professing Christians all over have never discovered the true gospel. Let's go over it again with that in mind because it won’t do any good for any of you to lead a person out of the Watchtower Society and its false gospel if you don’t give them the correct version of the gospel, the one that can save their soul.

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,”

This is so short but so essential. We are guilty, all of us, of breaking God's moral law.

We've not put God first, we've put other idols in God's place, we've taken God's name in vain, we've not rested in Jesus' work on the cross and trusted in our own works, we've dishonored our parents. Jesus said if we hate our brother we're a murderer at heart. He said if we've lusted we're an adulterer at heart, we've stolen, we've lied, and we've been discontent with God has given us and coveted what others have. Given enough time, we'll break all God's laws BUT Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.

The book of Hebrews explains well the plan of God to have Christ be a perfect sacrifice for our sins, not just to cover them, but to pay for them in his life's blood. He did a double trade for us. Our sins were credited to him, having all our debt of sin canceled out and we’re no longer subject to God’s wrath. That’s mercy. Then Jesus credited His righteousness to us, giving us the benefit of good works that He did that we couldn't and thereby giving us the right of heirs to be with God forever. That’s grace. Jesus is now in heaven, and because he is still an immortal man he can be our High Priest forever to intercede with the Father as our mediator and keep us safe in Him forever. This is what it means for Christ to die for our sins according to the scriptures. 

 “that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures,” 
This is so important because it shows that the Father accepted Jesus' sacrifice for us by raising Him from the dead. As Paul also says in verse 14 “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” 

“and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living.”
This is not some 'spiritual' resurrection. That would be an easy out for the claims of a failed Christ. This Christ rose bodily and was witnessed by hundreds and transformed the world and split time from BC to AD. We can trust this risen Lord. There is so much more to how we live out the implications of this gospel message but if these things of first importance are forgotten, rejected, or sidelined then you have no gospel and are in no better position than a Jehovah's Witness or Mormon. If this sounds harsh, then how did Paul sound in his condemnation of those with a false gospel?

 
In Conclusion

What I've been showing you is just what you can do in five minutes but you won't be undoing years of brainwashing and conditioning in that five minutes. The Holy Spirit may take what you say, though, and use it as a seed to get them to repent and then lead them to a knowledge of the truth. Remember, there are no silver bullets, none.

The questions you have written in your Bibles, though, will give you the ability to calmly respond to that doorbell and ask a good question. Just keep that Bible in a handy location and maybe you'll even use it this coming week. But bring it back next week and we'll add some questions to ask the Mormon missionaries and maybe also some of your neighbors.

Pray for God to act in leading them to repentance and then a sound gospel message can replace the false one.

I encourage you to study more on this subject to be prepared and you can go to my blog that is listed at the bottom of the page to find resources I’m recommending.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Answering Skeptics' Challenges #4 - Don't Christians do evil?


Last week’s class was about whether God does evil like ordering genocide or approving of slavery.  Today’s class deals with the question “Don’t Christians do evil.  The rise of the New Atheists and a lot of backlash against Christians came about out of the Islamic 9/11 attacks, strangely enough.  The atheists looked at the threat of Islamic fundamentalism and jumped to the knee jerk conclusion that all religions are harmful. Hence the title of Christopher Hitchens’ book “God is Not Great – How Religion Poisons Everything.”  Christopher Hitchens lambasts Christians, Catholics, Muslims and more in his book.  He doesn’t limit his ire to Muslims at all, but how many Amish terrorists have you heard of?  Still, to his credit he has done a great deal help a fellow author, Salmon Rushdie, who has a death sentence on his head from an Islamic Fatwa placed on him because of his book, The Satanic Verses.  That book was referring to the questions Muhammed had about the Koranic verses that were being revealed to him and he wondered if they were originating from Satan.  That choice of subject earned him the Fatwa.  As a result, Hitchens has provided him sanctuary for years in England.  Despite that humanitarian gesture, Hitchens has said such horrible things about Mother Theresa and Jerry Falwell after their deaths that I have to wonder what kind of poison is inside him to come out like that.  But alas, this class is about the charges that Hitchens and others make against us, not ours against them. 

So, let’s get to our next question in the atheist’s video “10 Questions Every Intelligent Christian Must Answer.”  Unfortunately this question is not a strong challenge like Hitchens makes but it is the only remaining question on the video and I want to cover them all so we’ll cover this last question and cover a couple other common ones that come up.
My favorite word in that question was the word, “Finally”.  I’ve heard this charge many times over the years and I’ve always questioned it because of Mark Twain.  Mark Twain wisely said there were three kinds of lies, “Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics.”   I’ve heard about these studies about the divorce rate of Christians but his claim is really whether God can keep Christian marriages together.  Essentially, if God couldn’t keep every Christian marriage together then he’d claim God failed, or rather that he doesn’t exist.  There are all kinds of wrong assumptions in this question too.  
First, we don’t believe God is bound to keep marriages together no matter what despite what the marriage vows say.  We look at what the Bible has to say and there are grounds for divorce for Christians that are allowed by God.  The Christian is not in sin when the other spouse abandons them, commits adultery, and most theologians and pastors also hold that spousal abuse also breaks the marriage bond and it isn’t God’s fault either when this happens.  There are certainly couples who get divorced for many other reasons but the allowance for divorce is proof that his accusation that God is bound to hold marriages together is false.  In fact, the Bible says that even God is divorced.   Jeremiah 3:9 says that God divorced Israel. “I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries.”  So, there are grounds for divorce that are allowed by God.

Second, not all couples that get ‘Christian’ marriages and who profess to be Christians actually are Christians.  My own parents are both twice divorced and now my sister is divorced and none of them are Christian despite their ‘Christian’ marriages. There was a recent study that said that professing Christian couples who went to church regularly, three or more times per month, still not proof they are Christians, had a much lower divorce rate than non-Christians.  One hint that dedicated Christians divorce at a much lower rate is that pastors have half the divorce rate of other Christians.  
A study by Shaunti Feldhahn found that the state of marriage is far better than most of the cynical stats we hear.  She found that even according to Census data, 72% of all married people were still married to their first spouse.  The remaining 28% also included those who were widowed.  She also looked again at Barna polling data and found that Christians who actually go to church have a 27% lower divorce rate.  So the oft-quoted stats are far too cynical.

Also, the whole problem with looking at these divorce rates also is that it takes two to keep a marriage together.  How many solid Christians had unbelieving spouses or they were false converts?  We can’t know but as I mentioned abandonment is a scriptural reason for divorce and many unbelievers will leave their spouses when they come to faith.  Even Lee Strobel said he was heading towards divorce when his wife became a Christian until he came to faith too. 

Third, I’ve also always wondered whether our divorce rate in this country was so high because we have much higher expectations out of marriage because of the Christian ideal and when peoples’ expectations aren’t met they get angry.  For example, Europeans are unfortunately much more casual about adultery.  Even the president of France was at a state funeral with his wife once and his mistress was sitting behind him.  Our Christian ideals set us up for disappointment when we aren’t equally committed to living them out and pursuing holiness in our daily lives. 
So, in conclusion.  Christians should have a negligible rate of divorce and we don’t, to our shame, but the failure of some marriages isn’t a proof that God doesn’t exist.  On the other hand, we see strong evidence that the Christians who are walking the talk have more fulfilling marriages and lower divorce rates.  

Christians did evil in the Crusades.
A challenge that you’ll often hear is that Christians did evil in the Crusades.  It seems the ones that bring up this charge a lot are the Muslims, who ironically were the ones that started it all.  Christian sociologist and historian Rodney Stark wrote a controversial book called “God’s Battalions: A Case for the Crusades”.  He wrote a detailed defense for the countries of Western Europe having to respond to the advance of Islam taking over Christian held lands for two centuries before Europe could mount a stiff response in the Crusades.  I highly recommend reading the works of Rodney Stark because he is a kind of myth buster and he sometimes busts the myths of Christians as well.  You can also find talks he’s given by searching his name on iTunes. 

Myth 1: The Crusaders were Christian.
There are many myths surrounding the Crusades. The first myth is that the Crusaders were Christian.   It would be pretty easy to dispense with this charge if we can just show that the Crusades weren’t done by Christians.   Think of even today, in 2005 a Barna poll said that 80% of Americans self-identified as Christian.  We know that isn’t even close to being right, don’t we?  I think it is closer to one-tenth that much who are truly Christian, actually.  What about in the Middle Ages?  Rodney Stark provided this observation in his book “For the Glory of God”:
“By overlaying pagan festivals and sacred places with Christian interpretations the Church made it easy to become a Christian, so easy that actual conversion seldom occurred.”  
A Christian is someone who is following Christ’s commands not just claiming to be one.
Anyone who was committing atrocities in the Crusades was not acting as a Christian.  Some true Christians may have been involved in doing bad things but the vast majority of those acts were not done by Christians. There were certainly many who joined the fight for religious reasons but I don’t think it would be accurate to call them Christian reasons. Consider the preaching of Saint Bernard of Clairveaux who rallied people to join the second crusade.  This is how he preached to the men he wanted to enlist in the crusade. He said,
“For how long will your men continue to shed Christian blood?  For how long will they continue to fight amongst themselves?  You attack one another.  You slay one another, and by one another you are slain.  What is this savage craving of yours?  Put a stop to it now, for it is not fighting but foolery.  So, to risk both soul and body is not brave but shocking,  It is not strength, but folly.  But now oh mighty soldiers, men of war, you have a cause for which you can fight without dangers to your souls, a cause in which to conquer is glorious, and for which to die is gain.” 
Does this sound like he was talking to devout Christians?  Does promising them that they would gain salvation if they died in battle sound like Christian doctrine?  That is not the gospel at all.  That actually sounds more like Muslim doctrine.  

There were many crusades over the middle ages and there was an attempt to start another crusade in 1517 by Pope Leo X (the Tenth), the same year that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the Wittenburg Door.  As a response, Martin Luther wrote a tract called “On War Against the Turk” and Luther would have known a thing or two about Crusades, don’t you think?  He knew what a crusade was so we should listen to what he had to say:
He wrote in part:
“But what motivated me most of all was this:  They undertook to fight against the Turk in the name of Christ, and taught and incited men to do this, as though our people were an army of Christians against the Turks who were enemies of Christ.  This is absolutely contrary to Christ’s doctrine and name.  It is against his doctrine because he says that Christians shall not resist evil, fight, or quarrel, nor take revenge or insist on rights (Matt 5:39).  It is against his name because there are scarcely five Christians in such an army, and perhaps there are worse people in the eyes of God in that army than are the Turks; and yet they all want to bear the name of Christ.  This is the greatest of all sins and is one that no Turk commits, for Christ’s name is used for sin and shame and thus dishonored.  This would be especially so it the pope and the bishops were involved in the war, for they would bring the greatest shame and dishonor to Christ’s name because they are called to fight against the devil with the word of God and with prayer, and they would be deserting their calling and office to fight with the sword against flesh and blood.  They are not commanded to do this; it is forbidden.”

So, in Martin Luther’s opinion, there would be scarcely five Christians in a crusader army and most would be worse than the Turks.  He also judged it was blasphemous to call the crusade a “Christian” war and carried out by Christians.  It may have been judged as a ‘just’ war as defined Augustine’s just war theory, but not a ‘holy’ war, or ‘Christian’ war.  These kind of sources should take the legs out from under the charge that Christians did evil in the Crusades.  Still there are other things to know about the crusades that we’ll cover in brief.

Myth 2: The Crusades were against the Jews also.
One myth of the Crusades is that a lot of Jews were massacred.  Not one crusade was ordered against the Jews and usually the crusader armies were ordered to not molest the Jews.  Unfortunately, though, quite often the Jews were fighting on the sides of the Muslims so they were killed when that happened and there were other incidents but nothing widespread.

Myth 3: They fought to get wealthy.
Another myth is that they went on the Crusades to get wealthy.  Uh, well, these people mostly walked to Jerusalem.  How much wealth could they actually carry back with them to make it worth years and years of effort and risk of life and limb?  That wasn’t a viable reason to join the crusades.

Myth 4: The crusades were launched against peaceful Muslims to conquer them.
Some people actually claim that the crusaders went to fight against the peaceful Muslims in order to conquer their lands and take their wealth.  Oh, please.  That is completely ignorant of history.  The Muslims had been sweeping through Christian lands in North Africa, Turkey, and Eastern Europe for several centuries before Western Europe was able to come to the aid of the Christians in the East.  The Muslims first had to be pushed out of Austria, France and Spain.  They had also attempted to conquer Italy and even threatened Germany.  The crusades were a very belated response to all the conquest that the Muslims had done previously.  Not everything done in the Crusades were justified or right, certainly not, but to ignore what Muslims did and only hurl stones at Christians is either ignorant or dishonest or both.

Christians did evil in the Spanish Inquisition
Christians are also challenged with the evil of the Spanish Inquisition.  Every time I hear a complaint against Christians about the Spanish Inquisition I kind of roll my eyes and ask, “Can’t you come up with something more recent than five hundred years ago?”  I also don’t want to be put into a position where I have to defend that Roman Catholic system in order to defend Christianity since it had very little to do with Christianity.  It would help to know a few facts nevertheless. 
1.It was a government controlled inquisition.  The King and Queen of Spain got a Papal bull from the Pope to have the authority to do the inquisition but after that it was completely under their control.
2.It was partly in response to the number of Muslims still in Spain after they had been pushed out of the country.  The Moors had been in Spain for a long time and the inquisitions were kind of a loyalty test of Muslims and Jews.
3.It was not following orthodox Christian doctrine in any recognizable way. 
1.Forced conversions.
2.Forced baptisms.
3.Anti-semitism.
Any attack on the Christian faith by appeals to atrocities by those claiming to be Christian has to be challenged.  Can they point to how that act was caused by any teaching of Jesus or contained in any accepted creed?  Someone claiming to be a Christian who would bomb an abortion clinic, massacre or torture people or whatever is not a Christian, just like a person claiming to be an atheist who says grace before his meals is not really an atheist.  The mass murderer in Norway was protrayed as a Christian Fundamentalist but those who actually read his 1,500 page manifesto found that he was not one at all.  Ben Stevens, who spoke here at E-Free about his plans to be a missionary in Germany, wrote an article for the Huffington Post about this killer.  Ben actually read the manifesto and concluded that, at best, this guy was a cultural Christian and not devoted to Christ at all, but devoted to his Norwegian Christian culture. This man’s favorite authors were atheists.  Ben said he was a Cultural fundamentalist, not a Christian. 
 
Christians are homophobic. 
This is the newest, and at least freshest, challenge to Christianity that has come along.  It is one we do need to take seriously and we could take four weeks on this alone since this is the sharpest line of attack on Christianity in Western countries.  When a Christian is called a homophobe it is not exactly a challenge, it is designed to be a conversation ender.  Saying this is meant to shut us up and put up the barricades.  In fact, it isn’t just homosexuals that make this challenge.  It is just a convenient weapon for any skeptic or atheist to use and they will use it.  Still there are ways to open up the dialog again and give a witness for Christ. 
Some years ago we had a Sunday School class on Relativism using the video “Relativism – Feet firmly Planted in Mid-Air” with Greg Koukl and Francis Beckwith.  Beckwith said he was speaking at a college campus once and a student yelled out at him, “Homophobe!”  He addressed the comment in a humorous way.  He said he didn’t know why he was being called a homophobe because he wasn’t afraid of or hate homosexuals that he knew of.  And if he did actually have a phobia about homosexuals then you should realize that any phobia is actually a disability and how politically incorrect it would be for you to make fun of a disabled person.”  He received roaring laughter from that and got the crowd on his side.  We don’t need to respond like he did but we can make the challenge back in a gentle way to ask them to justify this accusation.


First, you can ask them to define the term.  They may say it means you hate homosexuals. Your conversation may go like this:  "That’s not true.  We don’t hate homosexuals. So, try again, what does it really mean?  You have a fear of homosexuals? A phobia.  Really?  How have I possibly demonstrated a phobia?  I have a fear of heights and it can get pretty obvious when I’m up high somewhere.  I’m not afraid of homosexuals.  I actually like most of the ones I’ve met.  I don’t have a fear of homosexuals so why did you call me a name?  Is it because you have a fear of Christians?  Christophobe?  Now, doesn’t that sound ridiculous?  Can we talk about real issues instead of name calling?"


Second, if you get a chance to explain your position then there are few things you can point out.  You aren’t really concerned at all about their homosexuality if they aren’t a Christian, you want them to come to salvation and then God can deal with them on that.  The Bible does say that we don’t hold non-Christians to the same standards as we do Christians so to focus on any individual sin of a non-believer gets in the way of bringing them to a knowledge of the judgment of God on ALL of their sin, their lying, their theft, their blasphemy, their lusts.  It would be best if you don’t even bring up homosexuality since it just brings up the walls, go to their conscience on all their other sins and show them they have a lot more to worry about than just this one area.  If you are concerned about their homosexuality then it is simply because of the harm it causes to them spiritually but also in their lives now.

Homosexuals have a dramatically shortened lifespan on average according to the Center for Disease Control.  Homosexual couples are twice as likely to involve physical domestic abuse.  A woman is more likely to suffer violence in a Lesbian relationship than in any other situation, single, married, or living together with a boyfriend.  They won’t like to hear these stats but if any other behavior, like smoking, sky diving, or whatever, had the horrible effects on human life as did homosexuality then it would be banned everywhere.  You can tell them you don’t want them to suffer.

Third, we’ve had to respond to homosexuals in the area of public policy and politics as a response to being pushed.  We’re not being asked to just tolerate homosexuality but being forced to approve of it.  Homosexuals appear to be so insecure that they can’t just live and let live but have been acting out sometimes violently against those who disagree, quite the opposite of tolerance.  We’re getting our simple opinions becoming labeled and punished as hate crimes.  A teacher in Florida, the Teacher of the Year last year, was suspended from teaching after he posted opposition to same-sex marriage on his Facebook page, on his own computer, at his own home, on his own time.  That’s not tolerance.

Fourth, you want to offer hope.  Science has absolutely not shown any genetic cause of homosexuality so you believe the evidence that they are not born that way but that sexual identity is formed very early and you realize that most homosexuals have had something happen to cause their current state.  The hope you are offering is that their lives can be changed through Christ.  Just as an alcoholic can have his desire for alcohol change and become sober, though it may always be a struggle, likewise a homosexual can have their lives changed into one pleasing to God, though they may always struggle with temptations like the alcoholic.

Unfortunately, we’re losing the battle on homosexuality in the public arena and we’re being silenced by challenges like this one on one.  The reaction we often get is like we hit a raw nerve and frankly it could be a raw nerve since the wounds that brought on this homosexuality can be very deep. We need to start being winsome and caring and changing hearts and minds on this issue one on one. 


Is Skepticism a valid position to hold?   
Doubting and questioning is not a neutral position in response to an argument presented with reason and evidence, though it may be proper response to a plain assertion unsupported by reason and evidence.  This is Missouri, after all, and we’re the Show Me State, so asking ‘Show Me’ is fine in that case.  If someone does present that reasonable evidence then doubting and just asking ‘What if?” questions doesn’t constitute counter evidence.   

A mouth closes when it finds food to fill it.  A mind closes when it find sufficient answers.  A mind that is always open is one that is indecisive and can’t determine when it has found truth.  It reminds me of the person who was looking for something and said, “Can you believe it?  It was in the last place I looked.”  Of course, when you find what you are looking for then you stop looking don’t you?  To keep looking after that is irrational.  If you are given a sufficient reason to explain something then you should believe it.   The key word here is sufficient.

Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence?  No, they demand sufficient proof.

Atheists love to say that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof.  No they don’t.  Every claim only demands sufficient proof.  Also, extraordinary is a value judgment that is completely subjective so it is unlikely there would ever be extraordinary proof to meet that person’s standard.  Sufficient proof is the real standard.  If a co-worker comes into the office saying they just witnessed a car accident you’ll likely believe them without question.  If he came in saying he saw a UFO then you’d likely be skeptical but if a hundred co-workers came in claiming to all have seen the same Unidentified Flying Object then you’ll likely have sufficient reason to believe that they did see something that can’t be explained, hence the term ‘unidentified’.  

Certainly your level of confidence in any belief will vary.  Some beliefs you’ll hold like in a open hand and held lightly.  Others you’ll close your hand around it and others you clutch to your chest and you’ll die to defend that belief.  I think many areas of belief are like that and we can see it in others by their reactions to counter evidence.  Consider the atheist.  Some atheists now try to claim that atheism is just simply a lack of belief in God or that they believe in just one less god than you do.  That may sound cute but it doesn’t work.  Greg Koukl, of Stand to Reason, points out that the response to any proposition is either to believe it, deny it, or withhold judgment until you get more information.  If I was told that a certain soccer team in South Africa was the best team of the year then I would definitely be an agnostic on that.  But if I denied they were the best and had a reason why then I wouldn’t be an agnostic.

So, if the proposition is that God exists, the person who believes it is a theist.  The one who doesn’t have enough information and withholds judgment is what we call an agnostic.  The one who denies that God exists is an atheist.  To say that atheism is just a lack of belief in God is a cop out.  My cat is an atheist by that standard.  The toad in my yard is then an atheist.  On the contrary, if you present an argument for the existence of God to most atheists they’ll immediately deny it and challenge it.  That response shows it isn’t just a lack of belief in God.  Picture this, this atheist has an open empty hand and says that is simply his lack of belief in God.  Another has a closed empty hand and another has that closed empty hand to his chest and will die defending that lack of belief in God.  That’s an absurd claim to make that atheism is just lack of belief in God.  Atheism makes its own truth claim and can’t hide behind this irrational position.

Sometimes the skeptic has similar levels of doubt.  The open handed doubt is understandable and most Christians have that same position on many issues as they grow in their faith in and knowledge of Christ.  Some skeptics have a closed hand that is resistant to reasoned evidence and the hand is often completely empty of any counter evidence, or holding only previously discredited evidence.  Others will fight to the death and they will cling to whatever evidence they believe is sound counter evidence.  Let me give you an example.
 
Many scientists have realized that evolution cannot explain the origins of life in this universe because the odds against it are so stacked against having an un-designed, random cause. Instead of bowing to the evidence they recognize and admitting there is a designer to the universe, they came up with an ad hoc, un-provable, un-testable, and therefore unscientific theory to try to get out of the corner they are in.  That would be the Multi-verse theory that there are an infinite number of universes out there and ours just happens to work out the way it did out of chance because with an infinite number of chances you’d certainly get success eventually.

The Multi-verse theory is the ultimate example of skepticism and materialism leading to lunacy.  It is an ‘anything but God’ theory for most adherents.  Even Stephen Hawking fell for this kind of thinking, as shown in his latest book The Grand Design, because of the unacceptability of the contrary, God.  Hawking said in his first paragraph that philosophy is dead and physics killed it.  Is that a scientific statement or a philosophical statement.  It is clearly a philosophical position so his statement was a suicidal argument from the outset.  His own argument proved him wrong in step one.  He was sawing off the tree limb he was sitting on.  Scientists are usually the worst at philosophy.  

Now, I’ve spared you from a few more minutes that were left in the YouTube video but it was all the same thing.  He went through all ten questions like this:  “Why doesn’t God heal amputees?  Because he doesn’t exist!  Doesn’t that make better sense?”  It was like that for all ten questions.  His weak questions and doubts were not counter evidence and don’t support his view at all because he made no positive case for atheism.  There are arguments for God that are weak and have flaws and even Christians should discard those and an atheist may easily defeat those arguments but let’s then hear his argument.  Those arguments are very rare indeed.   

Resources:
  Reasons.org  “Who’s Afraid of the Multiverse?”  by Dr. Jeff Zweerink

  “God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades”  by Rodney Stark