Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Fall of Denominations?




A recent story at Christianpost.com offered a very interesting and intriguing story taken from a recent Gallup poll. It stated this in the title: "More Protestants Now Do Not Identify With Specific Denomination". It was revealed that the numbers who were aligned with denominations dropped from 50% to 30% in the years from 2000 to 2016. That is something that may have been  hard to believe or predict only a generation or two ago. The poll surveyed over 2,000 adults and in all 50 states in the US.

The article also shared that many surveys in recent years have found a rising demographic of Americans known as simply "nones". These claim to have absolutely no religious identification at all. When looking at this group, we find that their numbers have also doubled in the same time frame. That means that one in five adults in that group now have no link to any official organized religious group whatsoever in a so-called Christian nation.

For the first one thousand years of Christianity, there were no denominations as there are today. Various offshoot groups certainly existed early on, but most were small and quickly snuffed out as "heresies."

The first major division within Christendom came in 1054 with the divide between the Western Church and the Eastern Church. From that point forward, there were two large branches of Christianity that came to be known as the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. The next major division was the Protestant Reformation, sparked in 1517 by Martin Luther's publication of 95 Theses against certain Catholic practices. The Reformation marked not only a break between Protestantism and Catholicism, but the beginning of Christian denominationalism and sectarianism as we know it today.

But what comes to mind when we think of a religious denomination? Here is one definition I saw. "An organized Christian Church or tradition or religious group or community of believers or aggregate of worship centers or congregations, usually within a specific country, whose component congregations and members are called by the same name in different areas, regarding themselves as an autonomous Christian church distinct from other denominations, churches and traditions."

With that said, about how many denominations exist in the world today? According to Christianity Today,  there are now approximately 38,000 Christian denominations. About 242 are Roman Catholic and the bulk of the rest are protestant. And it is estimated there will be some 55,000 by the year 2025. Currently, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary estimates that a new Christian denomination is formed every 10.5 hours. That is an amazing concept when considering what is happening in the United States.

We need to pause here and note, just in case it is not obvious already, that there are sometimes significant theological differences between the main branches of Christianity. Then, too, there are sometimes differences in the doctrinal beliefs and traditions even within one particular denomination.  And the truth is that there are some groups that really do not meet even the minimum biblical qualifications that should allow them to be called Christian at all. 

So what about what we are seeing along these lines today especially in America? Is this overall shrinking on many fronts a bad thing? Or is it something that needed to happen in order to open up better ways for the church to relate to a modern culture? And do we really need literally hundreds or thousands of these religious divisions each having their own unique concepts and theological twists? Well the answer to these questions will depend on who you ask and probably what kind of church they now attend.

I have no idea what side of the fence you fall on to with this subject. If you are in traditional denominational church, you may be fiercely loyal to that  kind of ministry and congregational lifestyle. If you are not, you may feel that that denominations have had their day and it is time for a new day. Your personal views are between you and God.

But with that said, for any church or denominational to be valid and come under the banner of Christian, certain essential beliefs must be adhered to. Some have said that a problem with being in a strict denominational system is that "doctrine tends to divide". It is easy to say that and easy to believe it. And there are times where that can be true. But is that necessarily always a bad thing?  

Our convictions about theological issues are crucial. When there is a lack of understanding core doctrinal truths, or they are flat out incorrect, the result can be confusion and even heresy. And when that takes place, especially with essential truths like salvation, that can be eternally deadly. Doctrinal disasters happened in the early church and wreaked havoc, and these errors were the reason that some of the New Testament epistles had to be penned.

When a church body exists outside of a denominational affiliation, they must be certain to form some biblically accurate doctrinal statement and stand by it. To disregard doing so is spiritually careless, not to mention potentially dangerous. As it has been rightly said, "When we don't stand for something, we can fall for most anything."

So what are the core beliefs of Christianity? What should be the essential bare minimum whether within the confines of a denomination or not? And what does a group or person need to believe in order to rightly be called Christian?

There are a few things would seem fairly essential. There must be a firm belief in the inspiration and authority of Scripture since everything else logically springs from that divine source. (2 Timothy 3:16-17) There should be the belief in the Creator God who is eternal, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient and holy. It should be understood that man was made in God's image, but that his willful sin broke their perfect fellowship causing instant eternal death and eventually physical death. (Romans 3:23) And it must be known that this breach has to be reconciled apart from any works man can ever do. (Titus 3:5) Then, most importantly, there must come the absolute conviction, through faith, that Jesus Christ is God's Son and one's only personal Savior. (Ephesians 2:8-9) It must be believed that it is His sacrificial death on the cross that brings forgiveness, justification and the only escape from eternal judgment. Yes, there are many other important theological truths to consider, but these are the primary ones to start with because these all have direct bearing on genuinely becoming a true Christian to begin with.

The whole denomination issue will likely continue on for years to come, and the organized church in America may well look vastly different than it does now not far down the road. But what is of the utmost importance is that people base their eternal salvation on those essential truths that God's Word makes abundantly clear.  And then, in addition, that they find a local church that understands the Bible, reveres it, teaches it, and serves the God who authored it.

"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,  that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Eugene Peterson: What Does He Believe?



It was like a shot heard around the world. Or least it was strongly heard around the Christian world. It sounded off when Eugene Peterson, one of the most influential authors among evangelical pastors, recently responded to a question from an interview with Religion News Service. He was asked at one point that, if he was pastoring today, would he marry a same-sex couple? His quick and shocking answer came in the form of a yes!
 
That brief, but sobering, response stunned evangelicals everywhere. And a significant number of them quickly responded with disappointment. Beyond that, the largest Christian bookstore chain in the U.S. began considering whether or not to pull Peterson’s books from their shelves including his best-selling Bible paraphrase The Message.

The next day, Peterson released a long statement seen in full at The Washington Post. There, he retracted his former yes and stated that  he would actually not perform a same-sex wedding ceremony. He said, “That’s not something I would do out of respect to the congregation, the larger church body, and the historic Christian view and teaching on marriage. That said, I would still love such as couple as their pastor. To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything.”
Of course so-called biblical views can vary greatly on any given subject depending who you talk to.

At least Peterson seemed to have quickly returned to his senses and said the right thing after saying the wrong one. But it must be wondered now what he really does believe? His reversal was a good thing, but it fell short of giving any specific Biblical reasons for it. But that may not be all that shocking. It has been pointed out by some that he has never been very clear on many controversial, and even theological, questions. And when it comes to his writings, they are generally about pastoral theology and very light on Biblical doctrine. And it should be noted that the denomination that he served in for almost 30 years is one of the most liberal in the nation on many moral, social and theological issues.

So what now for Peterson? At the minimum, his reputation has been damaged even if his books now continue to be sold because of his altered answer on his original answer. But he is now age 84 and has already lived most of his life. He made his mark as a pastor and author. So perhaps what happened will not really change his life all that much. But what about those still in the ministry today and specifically pastors?

This same question and answer that made the news is not over by any stretch for them. But is rather quite symbolic and representative of what will be occurring more and more as time goes on. It will be thrust upon younger pastors who do not share Eugene Peterson’s fame, fortune or age.  These current leaders in church ministry will likely face this same question at some point their lives – perhaps sooner than they think. Only for these, it will not be just for an interview. For many it will impact their lives, families, churches and the very future of their ministry careers!

Perhaps we will never know what Eugene Peterson really believes in his heart. That is ultimately between him and his God. But when it comes to what any Christian believes, the number one issue is that it must be based in solid Scriptural truth and not on the personal or societal whims of the hour.

I pass a small church each Sunday and they often have clever sayings on their outdoor sign. The one this week said, “Don’t believe everything that you think.” How simple and yet profound that is. And how significant especially when it relates to spiritual matters? Many "believe" they are going to heaven because they "think" they are good enough to get there on their own merits. But what they think about this weighty subject is irrelevant no matter how much they may believe it. And in this case, it is their eternal destiny that is at stake!

When it comes to the moral questions of our day, it does not matter what we think or even what we believe. All that matters is what God clearly teaches us to believe. If something is wrong according to God’s Word, then our duty is to agree with that no matter what the reactions around us may be. That is called having convictions! And hopefully the church of Christ can muster up enough of this now rare commodity to stand out as lights in this present and foretold darkness as the return of their Lord draws near!

“But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: We ought to obey God  rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Because It's The Cup!

The Stanley Cup  is the championship trophy awarded annually to the National Hockey League's playoff winner. It is the oldest existing trophy awarded to a victorious professional sports franchise. The first Cup was given out in back in 1893 and  professional teams first became eligible to challenge for it in 1906. Then after a series of league mergers and folds, it was established as the championship trophy of the NHL in 1926. The Montreal Canadians have won the Cup a record 24 times while the Detroit Red Wings have won the Cup 11 times, the most of any United States based NHL team.

This week it was the Pittsburgh Penguins who again won the coveted prize. Captain Sidney Crosby hoisted the Cup for the third time, and two years in a row, after defeating a very competitive Nashville Predators team that had never been to the finals before. But this trophy is arguably the hardest championship to win.That is  largely because of the physical grind and demands of the game itself. There really is nothing quite like the intensity and stress level of playoff hockey because winning the NHL's ultimate prize is so often like a survival of the fittest.

But what makes this trophy even more special is something unlike anything else in all of sports. After the victors celebrate their win, each participating player and coach then has their name physically engraved on the prized hardware itself. Currently, a player must have played at least half of the regular season games for the championship team (provided the player remains with the team when they win the Cup) or have played in at least one game of the Stanley Cup Finals. Typically, the winning athletes in other sports will get a ring and a parade following their championship run. But only in hockey do they each have their name immortalized on the historic trophy. It is an honor unlike any other in sports.

One of my dreams while playing this sport as a youngster was to have my name written on Lord Stanley’s prize. Few who play don't have that fantasy at some point or other. That of course did not happen, and it is safe to safe now that it won’t. Only a select few will ever know that honor and amazing experience. But whenever I see the Cup being hoisted above the heads of each winning player,  I am instantly reminded of another place where names are individually  inscribed. But in this instance it as a place that is infinitely more important than even on the greatest sports trophy of all.

It is called the 'Book of Life’ and is referred to in the Bible in Philippians and repeatedly in the last book of the Bible. In Revelation chapter 20 and verse 12 John writes, "And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life . And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”

It is true that there are but two categories when it comes to the Stanley Cup. There are those who have their names written on it and those who do not. And of far greater importance is that the same holds true with the names that are, or are not, written in God’s Book of Life. But getting one's name written in this spiritual and heavenly book does not require some intense competition.It does not take talent, luck or extreme hard work. But it requires only a single act of saving faith in God’s Son as personal Savior. That is seen in numerous passages of Scripture including one of my all-time favorites. It is Ephesians 2:8-9 and it is the passage that led my own mother to Christ many years ago now. It reads, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
 
For anyone to have his name placed on Lord Stanley’s Cup takes great talent,  effort, good health and a few key breaks along the way. It is a very special, but very temporary, earthly honor. But getting one’s name inscribed on the Book of Life, and for all eternity, has nothing to do with any personal effort or worldly accomplishments. It is about being saved through God’s grace and by trusting in God's Son - period. . He is the one who did all of the work on the cross to provide the true and ultimate prize of salvation for us all!

"Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."  (Romans 3:24)



Bill Breckenridge










Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Terror In The UK



Much of the world is again in total shock and disbelief after the deadly suicide bombing that took place after an Ariana Grande concert in Europe’s largest indoor arena. A total of 22 were left dead including young children and an off-duty police officer.  Some remain missing and many more were critically injured - some having major organ damage and potential loss of limbs. 

As usual, leaders everywhere denounced this latest assault on the civilized world and on helpless innocent people. And maybe this will be the time when some kind of real action will follow the strong language that always falls of the deaf ears of the wicked. The Prime Minister has raised the threat level to the highest possible rating believing that there is a very real concern about  another attack.

Authorities have named Salman Abedi as the suspected suicide bomber. The Greater Manchester Police revealed on Wednesday that three men have been arrested in the south of the city in connection with the concert bombing attack including Abedi's 23-year-old brother. Meanwhile, Abedi's father spoke for the first time since his son's death to deny his son’s Involvement. He stated, "We don't believe in killing innocents. This is not us."

The key phrase that struck me in that last sentence was, ‘since his son’s death’. If his son did not believe in killing innocents, and did not do so, why then does he not simply show himself to the authorities and quickly prove that his body was not scattered all over the crime scene? It seems to me like that would be an easy start in proving that his son may indeed be innocent of this horrific crime.  Or perhaps I am just missing something here?

As I thought about the potential impact of this supposedly dead attacker suddenly showing himself to be fully alive, I was reminded of what occurred after Jesus died upon the cross. The purpose of His death was obviously the polar opposite of those who die only to brutally and senselessly murder others. The death of Christ was to save and redeem all sinners. It was to fully deal with the spiritual death sentence that resides on all of humanity – even to those who commit the worst atrocities imaginable. He sacrificed Himself to save and not to kill. He died in order to provide eternal life and save from eternal death.

But unlike Salman Abedi, Christ did appear after his death. That is revealed in 1 Corinthians 15:4-8 where the Apostle Paul wrote, “He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.”  And the additional proof of His being seen alive was the life-altering response in the lives of those who would change the world forever because He in fact did rise from the dead.

What a stark contrast arises when considering the sacrifice of God’s Son for sinners versus those who selfishly takes their own lives only to kill and destroy the lives of others. Jesus Himself spoke forcefully to those who acted on behalf of Satan in John 8:44. He said there, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.”

Again, compare that to what Jesus did, and why He came, as penned in 1 John 4:10-11. “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

The actions of ISIS, and others who behave like them, could not be any farther from what Christ did and taught. The views and actions of those who are ‘of the devil’ and those who are ‘in Christ’ are beyond evident and as far as the East is from the West. The contrast could not be any greater and the solution for sin and clearer. It begins and ends with personal faith in the crucified Christ who rose again from the grave. In doing so He proved, not only His total innocence, but also His claim to be deity and the lone Savior of a fallen race in desperate need of redemption!

“He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8)

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Very Best Mother's Advice



It arrives each year in May. And it has become one of the largest holidays as far as consumer spending. And of course it is none other than Mother’s Day. It is the designated time when moms are honored for their priceless contributions to their families and even their nation by extension.
The official Mother’s Day holiday arose in the 1900s as a result of the efforts of Anna Jarvis, daughter of Ann Reeves Jarvis. Following her mother’s 1905 death, Anna Jarvis conceived of Mother’s Day as a way of honoring the sacrifices mothers made for their children.

After gaining financial backing from a Philadelphia department store owner named John Wanamaker, in May 1908 she organized the first official Mother’s Day celebration at a Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia. Following the success of her first Mother’s Day, Jarvis—who remained unmarried and childless her whole life—started a massive letter writing campaign to newspapers and prominent politicians urging the adoption of a special day honoring motherhood. Her persistence paid off in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure officially establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

There are many famous moms in the Bible. We were given insight into the lives of Eve, Sarah, the mother of Moses and others. But for obvious reasons, the mother of Jesus is in a class all by herself. It is hard to imagine what it must have been like for her raising a fully perfect and sinless son.

But there is one event where Mary and her son were in the middle of an interesting situation. It was the story of the wedding in Cana in John chapter 2. Mary was attending or even involved in the planning. Jesus and the disciples were invited guests. But at one point, Mary came to Jesus because they were running out of wine. But when she approached Him with the problem, he gave a seemingly odd answer in the form of a question. He basically said, 'What has that got to do with me since my hour has not yet come.' He was nicely telling her that he had new priorities and that his entire life was now about the soon coming cross. This answer may have confused his mom a bit. But she accepted it what he stated anyway.

But what is important here was Mary’s immediate response. She turned to the servants and said in verse 5, "Whatever he says to you, do it." Was she expecting a miracle of some kind at this point? We really don't know the answer to that question.

But either way, she was placing her full faith and confidence in whatever it was that the Lord would do - or not do. In the midst of this social crisis she was in the middle of, she was telling them, whatever my son says to you don't question it. Don't ignore it. Don't doubt it. And don't resist it. Just listen up and obey it . Mary was giving the servants 'the' perfect advice because she knew enough of Jesus to trust Him fully to handle any crucial matter perfectly! And isn’t this that level of faith we need to have in the Lord - no matter what the situation is before us?

Mothers are generally the ones in the family unit that provide sound wisdom for their children. This is generally good advice and especially when they are Christians and their suggestion are based on Biblical principles. And yet, there are none who are themselves perfect all of the time. But there is one word of advice that actually is. And that was summed up in Mary’s words when she turned to the servants and said, "Whatever he says to you, do it.”

The best advice we can ever give, or receive, is to do ‘whatever’ Jesus tells us to do. His perfect wisdom comes through various sources. It comes via the Scriptures, from the lips of his faithful servants, through fervent prayer and through the godly counsel of other grounded believers. And when this is faithfully received and acted upon, we can depend on experiencing a multitude of God's great promises like the one found in Proverbs 3:5-6.

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths."

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The World's Most Dangerous Animals?



Recently I saw an article on the web that grabbed my attention. It was nothing earthshaking or some story that had urgent world-wide appeal or implications. It was just plain interesting – well at least it was to me. The source of the piece was www.conservativeinstitute.org. It is an organization that deals with conservation issues.

It began with this statement. “When you’re out hiking or swimming in nature, what creatures do you dread encountering? Many of us automatically think of creatures with gnashing teeth or razor sharp claws. Animals like lions, tigers, jaguars, sharks, and grizzly bears inspire plenty of fear. Many of the deadliest animals in the world however are quite small and sometimes even innocuous looking. Let’s take a look at the top 10 dangerous animals you should avoid both large and small.”

The article then went on to list these highly dangerous creatures, most of which would not be the choice of many of us. To see the entire article go to their website here.

I’m not sure if the order of deadly creatures was significant or not. But here are just a few that were given. Surprisingly it was the Jellyfish that was described at the outset. They shared that most all Jellyfish are dangerous. But then stated that the Wasp Jellyfish is the most deadly and is the most venomous animal on planet Earth! That one shocked me.

Next on the list was Cone Snail. Despite looking fairly harmless, this creature is also quite deadly. As a matter of fact, just one drop of its venom can kill twenty human adults. And there is also no antivenin. And once stung by one of these, you will almost certainly die within just minutes.

Third on the list was not as shocking to me. It was the Black Mamba snake. This critter  may look less fearsome than the Hooded Cobra, but it is arguably more dangerous. It lives primarily in Africa and has an aggressive nature when approached. The venom of the Black Mamba is extremely toxic. It typically causes collapse in humans within 45 minutes or less and death typically in 7–15 hours without any antivenom.

The other creatures that filled out the most deadly group included the Cape Buffalo, Siafu Ant, Death Stalker Scorpion. Puffer Fish, Hyena, and the Stone Fish – the most venomous ‘fish’ on the planet. And as stated, with the exception of the 2,000-pound Cape Buffalo, most of these creatures are quite small considering how deadly they can be when encountered in the wild.

But the article also included one more on list of deadly creatures. And when I saw it, I was both surprised and also not so surprised at the same time. Number 10 was humans. It said this. “Human beings may not stand to win in a fair fight against most of these species, but thanks to our ingenuity, we have learned how to arm ourselves with weapons and tools which have placed us at the top of the food chain. We also get extra points on the deadly scale for our aggression, not only toward other animals, but toward each other. No other animal starts worldwide wars or blasts whole regions of the earth into total ruin with nuclear weapons. Without a doubt, the most dangerous animal in the world is the face you see in the mirror each day.” Remind me to not shave or comb my hair anymore!

Although man is a created ‘creature’, he is far more than the others in the group. He has a soul and was made in the image of God according to Genesis 1:27. But when he fell into sin, total depravity instantly followed. And that is why he sadly earned a place, if not first place,  on this infamous list. That truth is even spoken to in James 3:6-8. “The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.  For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.”

Mankind’s aggression began way back when he first disobeyed God. Sin entered the world along with spiritual and physical death. And sin was passed along, at birth, to everyone from that point forward. Things quickly became so evil and destructive as to force God to wipe out most of the race and start from scratch with just a few righteous souls on the Ark. Man’s tragic blunder also brought chaos and devastating effects into nature itself including animal kingdom.  (Romans 8:20-22)

With all of that said, there is another difference between fallen man and all of the creatures that live side by said with him. As mentioned, man was created with a soul and spirit and was made in God’s own image. Yes, those attributes were damaged by the original sin – thus the current dilemma.  But unlike a Black Mamba, or any other dangerous and deadly beast, man’s basic attitude and nature can in fact be changed. Because he alone has a soul and God’s image stamped upon his heart, he can also rise above terrible and deadly activity. he can overcome the inherited harmful instincts that have plagued the race from almost day one.

And that most radical of changes can come from but one source – the very God who created man in the first place. The one who gave him physical breath in the Garden can also give him new spiritual life in his heart through saving faith in Jesus Christ. (Romans 10:13) That reality can be seen throughout the New Testament. But it is summed up well in 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 where Paul wrote, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

Some day, in the future, the animal kingdom and nature will be restored to its original healthy state. That glorious picture is seen in Isaiah 11:6. "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, The leopard shall lie down with the young goat, The calf and the young lion and the fatling together.” But for the present, the only way that man can have his faulty selfish attitudes and dangerous behavior be truly modified is to trust Christ as his personal Savior and the Lord of his life. It is then, and only then, when the command found in 1 Peter 1:15 can become a reality and impact our broken world for good. “But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.”

Bill Breckenridge