This week on the Progressive Christian Blog with Author & Web Minister Paul J. Bern; to tithe or not to tithe: that is the question — https://zurl.co/O6Xn #tithing #theRealBible #ProgressiveChristian
This week on the Progressive Christian Blog with Author & Web Minister Paul J. Bern; to tithe or not to tithe: that is the question — https://zurl.co/O6Xn #tithing #theRealBible #ProgressiveChristian
Why Are the World’s
Young Adults Leaving Churches?
By Pastor Paul J. Bern
For better phone and tablet viewing, click here 🙂
Someone asked my opinion earlier this week about why so many millennial’s are leaving church, and what can be done about it. After doing some reflection, prayer and meditating, and based on some personal observations, there are quite a few reasons why this is so. To begin with, the fact of the matter is that young Christians often feel forced to choose between their logic and their faith, between evolution and Creation, and between compassion and piety, as if they are mutually exclusive of each other. Meaning, churches who are losing members do so due to politics and religion undergoing a merger while missing any semblance of the awesome power of the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This attitude dates all the way back to the time of Christ, when the temple high priests and the Hebrew religious establishment of that time were expecting the Jewish Messiah to arrive as a conqueror who would set up his Kingdom in Jerusalem – in opposition to the Roman Empire, echoing the “patriot movement” of today – and rule the entire world. That day is coming, but not on those terms, until all the Scriptures have been fulfilled. Jesus said about such people, “Woe to you, Pharisees, because you give a tenth of your mint, rue and all kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” (Luke 11: 42) God is running out of patience with those who “tithe” weekly while doing nothing for the less fortunate!
A second and equally noteworthy reason that churches are losing America’s young professionals is that young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be either too political, too exclusive, too old-fashioned to the point of being and thinking backwards, too unconcerned with social justice and hostile to liberal, progressive, environmentalist and LGBTQ people, among others. Most of all, I have met modern Christians who refuse to congregate and worship with anyone other than their own race. Rev. Dr. King said it best back in the 1960’s when he stated, “The most segregated place in America is at church on Sunday morning”. To a large extent, this has not changed much over the last 50 years or so. Does organized religion think that young adults don’t see this for the hypocrisy that it is? Who, after all these decades, still does not understand that there will be no bigots in heaven??
A third reason that some well-established churches are driving millennial’s and young adults away is the time-honored yet non-scriptural tradition of abstinence from alcoholic beverages. There are at least a few well-known Christian denominations – which I will decline to name – who “teach” that abstinence from alcohol is essential to salvation in Christ. But they have forgotten all about the twin facts concerning this subject; the first is that Jesus’ first miracle was changing water into wine, and the second is that there were at least two glasses of wine – and probably more – that were served at the Last Supper on the night before he was crucified. Even the apostle Paul advised Timothy, “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” (1st Timothy 5: 23) Earlier in this same book, Paul advised, “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the Word of God and prayer.” (Timothy 4: 4) Since this includes the grapes that make the wine, Paul’s teaching also extends to other natural substances, like medical marijuana and ‘polysyllabic’ mushrooms, both of which are proven to treat or cure bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, chronic alcoholism, seizures and even certain forms of cancer. That’s why America’s young adults look at the entire ‘abstinence-is-godliness’ issue and see it for the spiritual BS that it truly is.
Then there is another one of my pet peeves, that Old Testament-based “teaching” about giving a tenth of your income each and every week, otherwise known as tithing. It is based on two verses of Scripture, the first from the book of Deuteronomy chapter 14, verse 22, which says, “Be sure and set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year”. According to Scripture, tithing only occurred on certain feast days; Passover, First Fruits, the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles (see Leviticus 23, verses 4-44). But modern churches take this much further than that. Their pastors, deacons and other elders will use a well-known verse from the book of Malachi, the very last book of the Old Testament. It reads as follows: “’Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me’. But you ask, ‘But how do we rob you?’. ‘In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse – the whole nation of you – because you are robbing me’” (Malachi chapter three, verses 8-9).
Yet the Bible tells us that the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of the Old Law, as it is written, “Do not think I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.” (Matt. 5: 17). So when certain pastors quote from the Book of Malachi, they are taking it out of context. Still, modern-day preachers and evangelists use these verses to convince their congregations to keep giving more money and other donations as if the above verses were directed at the faithful. In reality, these passages were severe admonishments from God, not towards members of the Church, but rather directed at the leadership. Evidently there was some embezzlement going on because the priests kept too much of the offerings for themselves. This had nothing to do with the offerings of the faithful, and it still doesn’t!
The evangelical obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more than sticking to a list of rules. The world’s young adults long for faith communities in which they are safe asking tough questions and wrestling with doubt. We are taught to abstain from sex before marriage and not to commit adultery, yet all the while those who teach this commit the same sins in secret, as if God doesn’t know what they are doing. These are the same people who condemn same-sex marriage while committing their own immoral sexual behavior, such as being addicted to pornography. According to statistics provided by the National Council on Churches, combined with statistics from the CDC right here in Atlanta, roughly one half of Christian men, and about 40% of Christian women, are addicted to porn. That’s why I’m saying those who teach ‘abstinence’ are a bunch of hypocrites!
Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders is that the key to drawing people in their twenties and thirties back to church is simply to make a few style updates – edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving via texting. But here’s the thing: Christians of all ages have highly sensitive BS meters, and we’re turned off by anything that smacks of consumerism. What millennial’s really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance, and much more of it. We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against.
People today want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation. We want to be challenged to live simply, care for the poor and oppressed, pursue reconciliation, and become peacemakers. What people today don’t want are anti-abortion, “pro-life activists” who happen to be war hawks who are anti-national-health-care. In other words, they want authenticity, and millennial’s aren’t finding it in the churches. Millennial’s aren’t leaving churches because they don’t find the ‘cool factor’ there; they’re leaving the church because they don’t find Jesus there. Like every generation before ours and so every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus Christ the Son of God and everything he brings, which is life everlasting through his Holy Spirit! But I would encourage church leaders eager to win back young adults to sit down and really talk with them about what they’re looking for and what they would like to contribute to a faith community. The immorality of fighting wars, of extreme inequality, of the race-based drug wars while opiates are legal, and caring for the fatherless, widows and orphans would be good places to start. The point is, we must all start somewhere, or we will all end up nowhere. Better get going….
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
To view this in any browser, click here! 🙂
The celebration of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible was back in 2011, and Bible publishers are still ostentatiously commemorating that landmark by producing an abundance of gorgeous hand-bound versions complete with illustrations – for a premium price, of course. The hoopla is entirely justified, since the King James Bible revolutionized Bible reading, bringing Scripture into a common vernacular for the first time for the English-speaking world. Although I personally use other versions (NIV, NLT, & Amplified), it is not too much to say that the King James Bible – mass produced as it was – democratized religion by taking it out of the hands of the clerical few and giving it to the many, thanks to a cutting edge technology from back then called the printing press.
Today, another much bigger revolution in the Church is underway. Today’s technology goes a giant step further, making Scripture – in any language and any translation – accessible to anyone on earth with a decent mobile phone. It need not be a “Smart-phone” anymore, just a basic one with a decent sized screen is all you need. Just like the 500-year-old Protestant Reformation, which was aided by the advent of the printing press and which helped give birth to the King James Bible, changes wrought by new Web-based technology have the ability to expand the reach and scope of the gospel of Jesus Christ like we previously never have. In the face of church leaders who claimed that only they could interpret the Bible for the common people, Reformation leaders like Martin Luther taught that nothing supersedes the authority of the Word itself. “A simple layman armed with Scripture,” Luther wrote, “is greater than the mightiest pope without it.”
In that vein, digital technology gives users the text, plain and simple, without the interpretive lens of established authorities. And it lets users share interpretations with other non-authorities, like family members, friends and coworkers. With the Bible on iPhone’s, iPad’s and ‘tablets’ of various kinds, believers can bypass constraining religious structures – otherwise known as denominations and brick-and-mortar churches – in favor of a more individualized connection with God. We can’t see God, and we can’t see the internet visually, yet people who have a hunger and a thirst for God – or at the very least some power greater than themselves – connect with God this way. This website is based on that fact, that there is an emerging new power outlet that we can plug in to that is like a direct link to God. Churches are getting on the Web in droves because they are discovering the same thing. There is an intensity now, a burning desire to bring ourselves as close as we can get to God, because millions of Christians all over the world are beginning to recognize that we are living in the Last Days. There is now a growing sense of urgency to get as many souls into God’s kingdom as can be because we are all running out of time! The more ways we can find to do this, the better.
This helps solve a problem that Christian leaders are increasingly articulating; that even among people who say that Jesus Christ is their personal Lord and Savior, too many folks don’t read their Bibles. Here in the 21st century, more than a third of those who self-identify as born-again Christians rarely or never read the Bible. They don’t even own one! Among ‘unaffiliated’ people – that is, Americans who don’t belong to a religious congregation – more than two thirds say they don’t read the Bible. Especially among 18-to-29 year old’s, Bible reading has come to feel like homework, associated with “right” interpretations and “wrong ones,” and accompanied by stern lectures from the pulpit. Today’s young Christians, or “millenials” if you like, have come to expect experiences that appear unscripted and interactive, which allows them to be open and honest with their questions. To put it simply, they are hungry and thirsty for an authenticity that can only be found by reading the Bible. If anyone reading this does not own a Bible because they can’t afford it, please send me your email addresses in the responses below, or contact me directly from this link.
This yearning for a more directly connected faith – including Bible readings and verses to inspire or console wherever and whenever they’re needed – is being met with an enthusiastic embrace. For growing numbers of young people, a leather-bound Bible sitting like an artifact on a stand in the family living room has no allure. It’s not an invitation to exploration or questioning. Young people want to absorb their spirituality the way they do their news or their music. They want to browse on Facebook, Tweet on Twitter, link up on Linked In, and Google whatever is left. They are also streaming Christian content on their various digital devices directly off the Web, bypassing cable TV and printed media completely. Thus we now have products such as “Youversion”, a digital Bible available for free on iTunes and developed by a 34-year-old technology buff and Christian pastor from Oklahoma named Bobby Grunewald. In an interview on a Christian TV channel recently, he said he conceived of it while on a layover at Chicago O’Hara International Airport, wishing he had a Bible to read. “What we’re really trying to address is, how do we increase engagement in the Bible?” he said. Now available in 113 versions and 41 languages, including Arabic, “Youversion” has a community component that allows users to share thoughts and insights on Bible verses with friends. It has been installed on more than 20 million Smart-phones since 2008.
Traditionalists (and I’m definitely not one of those) worry that technology allows young believers to practice religion without committing to what many churches call “a church home” – and they’re right. What they are really afraid of is that donations will falter as a result of this development. The very idea of not having the church participants right there with them so these hireling pastors can pass around a collection basket (or two) completely unnerves these types of ‘leaders’. That’s how you can tell if a pastor is in the ministry for the right reasons. Let me give you an example. I once watched a Michigan pastor named Rob Bell on a Christian video that I streamed off the Web. It was the eve of the publication of his new bestseller “Love Wins” (I don’t recall the date on the video, but it was a couple of years ago). It was said on the show that after the book-signing, many of Pastor Bell’s acolytes said they felt they knew Rob through his sermons, which they regularly downloaded off the internet, even though they had never met him. They hailed from places like Australia, South Africa and New Jersey. They listen to Bell while they’re working out, or commuting to work. They get their religion – like their meals – on the run. Pastor Bell is going about this in the right way, and traditional churches with their comparatively high overhead are being left behind in the dust of history.
The family Bible has long been given as a gift on graduation day or other big occasions and inscribed with special dates such as births, marriages, or deaths. Some of these Bibles would go on to become collector’s items that are treasured, protected and preserved. I can see a world in the not-too-distant future when the Bible may exist primarily online, or on a ‘thumb-drive’, especially due to the number of trees we must otherwise cut down to make the paper on which to print them. For right now, worship services and Bible studies are still done almost exclusively as public gatherings in a house of worship, or sometimes in a “home church”. But more and more people are beginning to trend towards Web-based Churches that offers a more personalized experience. As a result for some, the necessity of physically gathering each week in the same place with the same people becomes a traditional form of worship that has begun to fade into the past. Moreover, more and more people are getting by without the expense of owning and insuring (and fixing!) a motor vehicle. Without a doubt, these two trends represent a new crisis for organized religion if it has difficulty adapting to these new technologies that can reach audiences that number in the millions. This question already has organized religion seeking to redefine what it means to be a body of believers. Besides, with all this new technology, the faithful can now have church as little or as often as they want (but often is definitely better, even if it’s for only 5 minutes each time). Just remember to make sure your worship is as authentic as the Lord and Savior you worship! Search your hearts for the answer to this question. God sees all and He knows all. Above all, never stop praying and praising Jesus, because he’s coming back real soon.
Those Who Sugarcoat the Bible Dilute Its Message.
They Will Be Judged by God!
By Pastor Paul J. Bern
To view this in any browser, click here! 🙂
The Bible is a gritty book. It’s very raw and very real. It deals with people just like us, just as needy and screwed up as we are, encountering a God who would rather die than spend eternity without us. That’s exactly why Jesus died for each of us, only to rise again from death and the grave on the morning of the 3rd day. Yet despite that, it seems like some Christians are uncomfortable with how earthy the Bible really can be. Although the factuality of the Bible through the belief in the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit is the foundation of all the Scriptures (with Jesus being the cornerstone), the Bible has a way of being just as earthy as a day of doing yard work around the house (if you’re lucky enough to still have one of those after the real estate crash of 2008). But there are others who feel the need to sanitize God by making His Word politically correct. God has already instilled true correctness within each of us because He alone is our source and our strength. Which is why any true Jesus follower has no time or patience for political correctness. I’m told that’s one reason why my weekly blog is becoming so popular.
For example, look in any modern translation of Isaiah 64:6, and you’ll find that, to a holy God, even our most righteous acts are like “filthy rags”, as the more sanitized King James says. But the original Greek and Hebrew didn’t say “filthy rags”; it said “menstrual rags.” But that sounded a little too gross to the Bible’s 17th century English translators, so they just relabeled it ‘filthy’ instead. And while churches avoiding talking much about Jesus being naked when He was on the cross, let’s pretend Paul said that he considered his good deeds “a pile of garbage” in Philippians 3:8 rather than a pile of crap, as the original Hebrew and Greek would have more accurately been translated. Oh yeah, and let’s definitely not mention the ten commandments in the Old Testament. That might be unpopular. Never mind that between the books of Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy there are a total of 630 of them. That could expose people as being the sinners that we all truly are. God forbid they should be so ‘offended’!
What’s the point to this rant? God’s message was not meant to be run through some arbitrary, holier-than-thou politeness filter. God couldn’t care less about political correctness, and I feel the same way. When I open my mouth, I don’t care if anybody ‘likes’ me or not, and so it is with God.
After all, it’s better to command respect than to desire popularity. God intended the Bible to speak to people where they’re at, caught up in the stark reality of life on a fractured and dying planet. There are dozens of Psalms that are complaints and heart-wrenching cries of despair to God – not holy-sounding, reverently worded soliloquies. Take Psalm 77:1-3: “I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me! When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted. I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help”.
And rather than shy away from difficult and painful topics, the Old Testament includes vivid descriptions of murder, cannibalism, witchcraft, dismemberment, torture, rape, idolatry, erotic sex and animal sacrifice. According to the apostle Paul, those stories were written as examples and warnings for us, as he wrote: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except that which is common to man. And God is faithful, he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it.”(1st Corinthians 10, verses11-13). So obviously they were meant to be retold without editing out all the things we don’t consider nice or agreeable. I have gradually arrived at the conclusion over time that the Scriptures include such graphic material to show how far we as the sum of humanity have fallen and how far God is willing to come to rescue us from ourselves. God is much more interested in honesty than piety, and in our Spiritual state rather than in how religious we are. And that’s what He gives us throughout Scripture by telling the stories of people who struggled with the same issues, questions and temptations we face today.
Peter struggled with doubt and with a bad temper. We read all about it when Jesus is arrested at Gethsemane (Luke 22, verses 49-51). Elijah dealt with depression; Naomi raged with bitterness against God; Hannah struggled for years under the burden of her unanswered prayers. David had an affair and then arranged to have his lover’s husband killed. Noah was a drunk and Moses was on the run from a murder charge. Even Job came to a place where he found it necessary to make a covenant with his eyes not to lust after young girls (Job 31:1). Was it not Jesus who said, “I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance”? It’s all a matter of priorities. “I desire mercy”, Jesus said, “not sacrifice”. Let’s not boast to God about how often we attend church, or how much one may “tithe” each week. Never mind your rituals, Jesus was saying. ‘Tell me about how much you did for others whether they deserved it or not. I want to know how well you treated others, and I want to know what you did to make a positive difference in their lives’. That’s all that matters to Jesus in the end! We either kept his commandments or we didn’t.
It’s easy to make “Bible heroes” (as Protestants might say) or “saints” (as Catholics might refer to them) out to be bigger than life, immune from the temptations that everyone faces. I find it encouraging that Jesus never came across as being pious or condescending. In fact, he was never accused of being too religious; instead he partied so much that he was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton because he was perceived as associating with “sinners” (Matthew 11:19). His first miracle was changing water into wine, and it is documented in all four gospels that wine was served and consumed at the Last Supper. (So, people who insist that one must be a teetotaler to go to heaven when they die are not only incorrect, they are judging people they don’t even know.)
Jesus never said, “The Kingdom of God is like a church service that goes on and on forever and never ends.” Following Jesus is more than just being dutiful or subservient, but instead it is richly rewarding to the point of being exhilarating! Our church services can’t hold a candle to what heaven will be like. Jesus promised us that heaven would be like a homecoming celebration, an enormous block party, and a wedding feast to which all are invited, all at the same time! This idea was too radical for the religious leaders during the time of Christ, and in some cases it still is. There are too many churches today who are more concerned about vain traditions and pompous religious rituals that aren’t even in the Bible than they are about partying with Jesus. And that’s why they keep missing out! That’s why many of us miss out. Pardon me, pastor, but did you say ‘party with Jesus’? Yeah, I sure did! However, before I go any further I am well aware that there are some individuals who simply cannot touch alcoholic beverages at all, but I’m sure that the eternal party in heaven will be far better than that. There are still others who abstain by choice, and I have no problem with that whatsoever. I’m only saying that I don’t think it’s a sin to drink unless it is done to excess.
According to Jesus, the truly spiritual life is one marked by freedom rather than compulsion (“So if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed” John 8:36), and by love rather than ritual (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these. ‘Well said, teacher’ the man replied. ‘You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but Him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices’.” (Mark 12:30-33).
Another hallmark of a truly Spiritual life is one focused on peace rather than guilt (“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27). I don’t believe some will ever recognize their need for the light until they have seen the depths of darkness. So God isn’t afraid to get down and dirty with us about life and temptation and forgiveness and grace. Only when the Bible seems relevant to us (which it is), only when the characters seem real to us (which they were), and only then will the message of redemption become personal for us (which it was always meant to be). Jesus saves us from the dry, dusty duties of religion and tradition and frees us to cut loose and celebrate! We don’t need to edit God. It’s our brains and our hearts that need a good editing. We need to let Him be the author of our new lives and the construction superintendent for our growing and expanding faith. The time is getting short, people! It’s time for all of us to lead more Spiritual lives, because Jesus will be returning soon, and at a time when you do not expect him. What’s at stake is where we will spend eternity, and there is no more serious subject than that.