Updated January 2011
In the quest to remain relevant in today's cultural and moral climate, too many of America's Churches have descended so far from first-century Christianity, they are barely recognizable to many Christians and would almost certainly not be recognizable by Jesus and His disciples today.
Many of America's churches are rotting from the head down, all in the name of relevancy. At times it seems more important to be "relevant" than to be true to God's Word. Not all churches have so badly dissipated, but many, especially Denominational churches, have.
This could be one reason that the numbers of non-denominational churches are on the rise. It could also be why more morally-conservative churches thrive while more theologically-liberal churches seem not to thrive and often lose membership. The fastest growing Christian churches in America today are churches which have the words "non-denominational" or 'inter-denominational" on signs outside their doors. These churches hew closely to the older Biblical translations rather than the newer paraphrased Bibles and are less tolerant of behavior which is clearly proscribed in the Bible. There seems to be a national theological swing toward center from the far left, and a commensurate moral swing from center to the cultural and political right.
In the full realization that this will not be easy to read nor to write, I pray that by the time it is complete, the reader may be more aware how far the Christian churches in America have descended, becoming a pale shadow of what Jesus intended the church to be. It is to be Jesus' church, not man's far-flung imaginings of a church. Christians, and those contemplating Christianity, should be aware of these bastardizations of Jesus' own church.
How many Christians feel a responsibility to actively combat the cultural and moral ideologies that undergird our secular culture? Many dismiss the problem saying merely, "The Gospel is enough." But this is only partly true. The Gospel must first be heard in order to be enough, and it isn't being heard as it was written. This is the case for two reasons: First, secular America prevents the real Gospel from being heard; filtering it out of media and institutional venues is the most effective technique. Second, some of the more modern translations and paraphrases of the Bible are corrupted by contemporary editors, which means a twisted Gospel is being presented.
Millions of readers of some of the more modern translations, such as "Today's New International Version" are reading sanitized gender-neutral Bibles, and they don't realize it. While Dan Brown's "The DaVinci Code" and "The Last Temptation of Christ" and some portrayals of Christ and his disciples as homosexuals are welcomed by secular and Atheist America, they are anathema to orthodox Christians. The same can be said for all the newest scientific and archeological discoveries which claim to invalidate Scripture; they don't. In fact, most turn out to be either fraudulent or deeply flawed in scientific methodology. Each new "discovery" claims the Bible cannot possibly be true. But the moment one discards the very reasonable concept of the miraculous, the scientific method becomes flawed. In fact, many of the more recent archeological discoveries have validated what is written in the Bible. This is not acceptable to those who arrive at science with a presupposition that the Bible cannot possibly be true.
Too many clergy and good Christians take the position that since they like most things about the church, they can ignore what they don't like. This only perpetuates the problem of a decaying orthodox Christianity. Lacking the courage to speak out about clearly unscriptural teachings, or simply being disinclined to do so, Americans are led to believe that a live-and-let-live casualness about the church is all right. It is not all right because such attitudes and teachings pervert Jesus' own life and purpose. Sadly, such laissez faire attitudes about Christianity and about Jesus Himself often come directly from the pulpit, where it is hard for the uninformed and easily-led to ignore. Placing their trust in the authority of their pastor or priest, many congregants believe they have no reason to doubt that what they are being told is moral and true. The preaching of a corrupted Word of God is a gross dereliction of duty on the part of clergy, a breach of trust, and a heartbreaking corruption of Jesus' own words.
This is not to say that any church is perfect. A wise clergyman once said, "If you're looking for the perfect church, forget it, because the moment you join, it becomes imperfect." Well said, but perfection isn't the issue; fidelity to The Word of God is the issue.
To add to the problems, in 21st century America we have godless schools, the prohibition of displays of the Ten Commandments, prohibition of prayer in the schools and on the steps of the United States Supreme Court, prohibition of public prayer in sports-events, prohibition of religious displays and now a prohibition of the very use of the word, "God" in government, business and school literature.
It is now forbidden to use the words Christmas, Easter, Christ, etc. in any literature or information emanating from public institutions lest someone be offended. Americans' right to not be offended has morphed into a Constitutional dictate, litigated if necessary. And now, from the pulpit itself comes a tidal wave of political correctness cum liberal religious ideology which shreds even the Bible in its destructive wake. This can be noticed in the glaring example of the condoning and encouraging of homosexual clergy. This encouragement comes from clergy itself and from the political and theological Left. Specifically, there exists now a gender-neutral Bible and a tolerance and encouraging of things God Himself prohibited in unambiguous terms and in many places in Holy Writ, including in the New Testament.
Satan is having a field day. In his magnificent "Screwtape Letters", C.S. Lewis writes about an experienced demon, Screwtape, who is instructing an apprentice demon, his young nephew, Wormwood, who has been turned loose on the world to wreak havoc among people who do not believe in the Evil One. The people, in their naiveté, do not believe they can be fooled. Screwtape tells Wormwood that the greatest victory their master, Satan, has won is having convinced the world that he does not exist.
Sadly, many Christians today have been deceived by the Great Deceiver. Why? Perhaps because to believe Satan exists and does influence man (rather easily at that) smacks somehow of faulty intellectual processes, fear and Bible-belting fire-and-brimstone Elmer Gantry quackery. The deluded Christians who do not believe Satan exists should take another look, a closer look. But that is another story for another time.
What can be done?
Many people who belong to the faux churches which have strayed so far from Scripture are content to overlook what many of us consider major intrusions by man into the Christian faith's original intent. But parishioners would rather remain in such churches and ignore what they don't like. Perhaps inconvenience, complacency, old age, spiritual inactivity or mental laziness cause this kind of spiritual inertia. Whatever the cause, it is not good for the soul.
As early as the first hundred years following Jesus' resurrection, man had so manipulated the church to conform to his own ideas of right and wrong that it is today virtually indistinguishable from the mechanistic, legalistic Pharisaic synagogues of biblical times which placed the consumption of unclean foods at the top of the priority list, instead of prioritizing the adherence to the Ten Commandments. Priorities were and are still badly skewed in many Churches.
Many of the newer Bible translations placate feminists and other special interest groups in order to make scripturally proscribed behavior acceptable to the masses. In the process, the translations of the more modern Bibles are often deliberately changed to suit the loudest voices and the lowest common denominator.
I have heard some clergy in one of the mainline denominational churches talk about how we "really don't know if God is male or female." (Read Gen. 2:8, then Gen. 2:22) These same people often embrace politically correct, gender-neutral religious philosophy even when it affects Bible translations. What is hard to understand about "God, The Father"? Was Jesus a woman? Was He asexual? According to a wildly popular new novel, Jesus had no sexual identity. This passes for enlightened discourse.
Politically Correct Bibles
Wishy-washy "all paths lead to God" pabulum is more responsibility-free and therefore more digestible for many. It may be egalitarian, perhaps, and certainly comfy to the liberal religious Left and to those too afraid to take an absolute moral stance, but the "all paths lead to God" notion is not Christian, according to the religion's Namesake. Politically-correct Bibles should be discarded immediately in favor of some of the older translations that were written before Christianity became a political football.
There are dozens of mistakes, omissions, deletions, changes and additions which affect the newer more "readable" versions of the Holy Bible. One can easily find many internet websites which cite such alterations, but I will not list them here for lack of space. Such alterations are expressly forbidden by Scripture. Revelation 22: "18I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; 19and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book." See also Matthew 5:18 and Luke 16:17 should you choose to look them up. Many modern translations do add and take away. And twist.
God's own Word has been perverted and twisted, often by the churches themselves, in order to make the Bible more readable so that more people will read it. Another reason for the more "readable" Bibles' existence is that they have been changed to lend a sense of inclusiveness to those people who are leading lives of sin and who wish to stay there. The perverted translations of certain Bibles relieve many of guilt about their personal behavior and thereby make life easier. More people reading the Bible is not a bad thing, but if more people are reading deliberately altered Bibles, they are learning not God's Word, but the devil's mischief. A do your own thing Bible is a tempting path to take because it appeals to a sense of fairness, but I doubt Jesus would approve.
To make matters worse, a new Bible was introduced in April of 2002: "Today's New International Version", which, with the exception of saying that Jesus Christ was a male, has omitted almost all male references (such as Son(s), Father, Lord, He, His, Mankind). In place of such words, other more "sensitive" terms are used; words such as the gender-neutral "child", "children", "parent", "The Eternal One", "Humankind", and so on. Why the race to omit the maleness of God and the Prophets? Is it to be somehow more inclusive? Is it to render equality between (or sameness of) the sexes? Why? What was wrong with the original? What is wrong with sexual differences? This may come as a great shock to many on the cultural and theological Left, but there are differences between men and women.
How is it scriptural to insinuate that both sexes are equal when in Genesis, the written Word of God specifically notes the creation of "Man in his own image", when Adam was created. (Gen.1:27). Adam was not asexual. Adam was a male, created in God's image. Does this not imply that God is masculine? Why is there so much fear of admitting that God is a male? Or is this a feminist snit by women who would rather the Creator have been a Goddess-Mother instead of God the Father? Postmodernism has replaced orthodoxy. This is not always a good thing simply because more people than not believe in it. Consensus is a terrible way to attain the truth.
God created woman from a man's rib. Later He specifically states that woman "will be under him". This is God's word, at least when you investigate the old translations from the Hebrew and Greek, it is. But the more modern the translation, the clarity of The Word begins to vanish and fuzzy feminism begins to spread like algae in a poorly-tended aquarium.
This is not to suggest that women are inferior. In fact, women were a large part of Jesus' ministry both before and after His resurrection. It is meant to say that political correctness has infected Christianity to the degree that it has stood the Bible on its head in the attempt to make inclusivity and "relevance" more important than what really happened when Jesus walked the earth and shortly thereafter. Political correctness has trumped the Truth – or so it sometimes seems.
Politics, Religion and First-Century Christians
The political-correctness pressure from militant feminists has had a devastating effect on our Bibles. Not content to demand equality, feminists often demand superiority, calling it "fairness." This can be seen in the neutering of the Bible. While one senses a recent diminution in the fervency of the so-called women's movement, still, some damage-control on the part of rank and file Christians may be in order.
I am devoutly Christian in my lifestyle and beliefs. I define being a "Christian" the way Jesus and his disciples did, although they didn't use the word "Christian" during Jesus' incarnation. To my thinking, Christianity should be unadulterated by succeeding centuries of man-made and clergy-dominated religious dogma, the way it is in present day America. I consider myself a "First Century Christian" because that is how Jesus introduced it. Christianity was its own essence back then – it was pure and that is how I pray it will stay in the conduct of my own life. This is not to say that I consider myself pure. It is to say that I aspire to be, do, and say it the way Jesus did - to do as He commanded. Nothing more, but certainly nothing less.
In his book, How Now Shall We Live, prison-convert Charles Colson wrote, "The church’s singular failure in recent decades has been the failure to see Christianity as a life system, or worldview, which governs every area of existence". The Gospel, filtered through a secular humanist world view, thrust upon us by public schools, entertainment, news, governmental agencies and by the general malaise of moral permissiveness, strikes the unbeliever as meaningless. "Why do I need salvation from sin", they ask? "There is no sin because there is no right and wrong." This is a cogently accurate assessment.
Moral neutrality passes for enlightened intellectualism in some circles, especially among secular humanists, atheists and agnostics. It infects our culture like a fatal virus. This is because participation in those institutions mentioned by Colson are almost unavoidable in our daily lives. Families are hit by this insidious contagion unless they home-school their children, have no television or computer, do not read newspapers and don't go to movies. As for permissiveness, in too many cases parents will not risk the anger of their own children by disciplining them, mistaking discipline for lack of love and fearing their children will do likewise. As a result, it becomes impossible to teach them strong moral values, integrity and honor. It is more important to many parents that children love them than that the children learn a strong biblically-moral code of conduct. That is upside down. One can have both love and discipline, yes, but children need discipline and guard rails. Their lack breeds moral decay and an outsized sense of entitlement in the child.
Love The Sinner But Don't Condone His Sins
I write all of this in sorrow and in prayer for changes in our churches from business-like bottom-line organizations to Spirit-filled, love-driven, Christ-centered beating hearts of worship for our Lord. This is not the way many churches look today. They have sacrificed Scripture for political and moral expediency, especially in their overt promotion of homosexuality.
I believe God loves the homosexual just as he loves all sinners. He also wants them, as He wants us, to "go and sin no more". Instead of praying for the homosexual to stop his sinful behavior, the church hierarchy has often ignored clear Biblical proscriptions against homosexuality:
Leviticus 18:22 "22Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination."
Leviticus 20:13, "13If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them."
Romans 1:26-27, "26For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: 27And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet."
1 Corinthians 6:9, "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality."
1 Corinthians 6:9-10, "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."
There is no ambiguity. Homosexual behavior is forbidden. This isn't a suggestion. God did not add, "….unless times change", but many a church has assumed exactly that. While today America does not put homosexuals to death, Christians do recognize that the practice of homosexuality is still, in God's eyes, a capital sin, and the death sentence is God's, not Man's. Is a death sentence the penalty for homosexual behavior? In Leviticus, God does indicate that this is so, but does not give a time frame for the penalty to be carried out. In any case, we cannot simply ignore the proscription simply because it doesn't fit into today's cultural tolerance of aberrant behavior. This may sound harsh in today's atmosphere of tolerance and diversity, but it is not I who proscribe these behaviors.
While our culture has evolved humanely in some respects such as in the way it responds to formulating the punishment for moral sins, it has not evolved to the point of ignoring what God says is sin. Homosexuality does not lose its sinful aspect simply because man's Law no longer has the death penalty for it or because it is prevalent among certain parts of the culture. At some point, one must choose between honoring secular law and honoring God's law. When they conflict at the deepest levels, bad things can happen.
Halting the Slide
Liberal religious ideology should be vociferously challenged. (Romans 1:22-25 – "22Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, 23And changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. 24Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves 25Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen." (Emphasis mine.) These verses emphasize that man changes God to suit his own failings, reducing God to the same fallibility men have. Today, we see this everywhere. And sadly, much of it is in our Churches and in our contemporary Bible translations.
As an example, homosexuality is not only sanctioned and condoned by far too many Churches, but also encouraged. Placing avowed and proud homosexuals into the pulpit is considered by some denominations to be somehow enlightened: In the name of relevance and diversity and inclusiveness, American culture has descended so far via the media and entertainment venues that homosexuality is rewarded, praised and tragically, given a lot of national positive attention. This sets a terrible example to our young people and is yet another example of slowly boiling a frog. When did the acceptance and encouragement of homosexuals in the pulpit happen? We don't know because it happened so gradually, so insidiously.
One need only "come out of the closet" to reap the slavering attention of the mainstream media, which seizes upon such news with an unfathomable ratings-conscious frenzy. Young people see the attention such announcements merit and they want a piece of it. The need for intense attention is overwhelming. There seems to be an epidemic of fame-lust. This could be because often both parents are working and the children don't get the attention they need. If this is the case, as it so often is, they seek recognition in behavior which will generate attention. That such behavior is harmful doesn't matter; even negative attention is better than none.
The real question is, how deep is the void and of what nature is it, which causes some people to seek attention and gratification in behavior which flies directly in the face of God's Law? What comprises the void that secularism cannot fill? For certain, it is a God-shaped void. When God fills that hole, He fills the person with life and vitality and love which would immediately make that person rather seek solitude with God than the attention of the multitudes.
Enough young people have been sufficiently desensitized to the sin of homosexuality so that they no longer view it as abnormal or sexually deviant. They have been bombarded by enough talk of homosexuality as normal or as an "alternative lifestyle" that they find themselves open to it in their own lives. This has spread from the media into the schools and to the Church, which has long been a haven for homosexuals and pedophiles who protect each other's deviancy. The frog gets warmer...
The recent scandal in the Catholic church where Bishops have confessed to molesting and indoctrinating young boys into homosexual practice has finally exploded into public view for all to see, at long last. What we see is that in many cases, from the top of the Church down, homosexuality is hidden, protected, sanctioned and even lauded. Pedophilia is not discouraged and homosexuals of both sexes are encouraged to become clergy. The scandal is temporarily stifling to pedophiles and homosexuals within the hierarchy, but the world watches.
What does this kind of scandal say to the congregants of such churches? It says that although God Himself stated that homosexuality is wrong and should not be practiced, the church has a better idea, a more relevant idea. This mindset of relevancy permeates many churches because in our uniquely American culture, tolerance of open homosexuality is considered humane, compassionate and enlightened. It is a case of "the times are changing and the church must change with them." Must it? Or are those changes exactly what is wrong with many churches in America? Is this what Jesus had in mind for 21st century churches? Did He plan for this corruption with open arms? Or is this the prophetic corruption of which the Bible speaks in the New Testament Book of Revelation?
Would Jesus approve of many of today's churches? I doubt it. Has Christianity changed so much that Jesus wouldn't recognize his own teachings? I believe that is the case. He may have dined with sinners but never did He tell them to continue to sin. In fact, He called sinners, "the sick" in need of repentance and healing. Matthew 9:11-13: "11And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? 12But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. 13But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Does one promote healing by telling the sick person to continue taking the poison that is killing him? Is Jesus' teaching in these verses so ambiguous, or is current thinking simply a case of a deliberate crumpling of Scripture to suit the contemporary cultural milieu?
True, Jesus did not condemn Mary Magdalene for her anti-scriptural adultery, but he did tell her to "go and sin no more" – that is the rest of the story conveniently omitted by those who cite scripture in an attempt to soft-pedal sin and turn it into normal behavior instead of the aberrant behavior that it is. It seems that many clergy in American churches have toppled so far off the spiritual ledge of the moral spectrum that they have lost sight of Jesus' actual words and His teaching. In their place is skewed relativism which is aimed more toward recruitment of members than it is toward hewing to God's Word as originally written in the Bible.
It has become so necessary to perpetuate the Churches that they will do anything to keep members, not so much out of love for the members, but more out of self-interest and the retention of power. I have noted that there are several "gay churches" in our country. This phenomenon unabashedly proclaims that far from repenting and eschewing the sin of homosexuality which God clearly forbids, churches are actually being built around those very sins, and calling themselves "Christian Churches". Satan stalks the land, his laughter echoing through the mountains, highways, streets and hills of America.
Imagine Jesus looking at such churches. Will He say, "It is good", or will He say, "You cannot build my church on something I have expressly forbidden. Nor can you expect to stay in My will if you persist in such a notion. It is written"?
Love the sinner, hate the sin is more than likely where Jesus would come down on the issue, but would He actually condone setting up a Church based on His teachings in a way which knowingly perpetuates the very sins God forbids? Such a notion is diabolical on the part of those who will argue on the side of Jesus' imaginary acquiescence to such a church framework.
Speak out in courage
In the New Testament Book of Revelation, there are several references to the coming corruption of the Churches in the Last Days. An angel's message, the one from Revelation 18:4, was included as part of the second angel's message: COME OUT OF HER MY PEOPLE, which is interpreted by many sources (when taken in context of the entire message of Revelation) to mean that the time had come to leave the corrupt churches of the day. Today, churches have become corrupt by, among other problems, the Orwellian doublespeak bad-is-good, homosexuality-is-normal pretzel of our anything-goes culture.
I submit we should leave corrupt churches or try to change them from within. But by no means, should we as Christians who honor and love God's Word remain in tacit agreement with what is clearly not Scriptural behavior on the part of clergy, the very people entrusted with the shepherding of souls to Jesus Christ. In order to know when we are being given information which is unscriptural, we must know what "scriptural" really means. That means reading and knowing the Bible inside-out. Not so much the newer translations, but as close to the original Greek/Hebrew as possible. An interlinear Greek-to-English Bible for the New Testament or an interlinear Hebrew-to-English Bible for the Old Testament is very helpful. There are also "literal Bibles" available now, too. Jay C. Green has written one and it is very good. Comparisons between those and the newer versions may shock you. My personal favorite is John MacArthur's "The MacArthur Study Bible" (NASB). It includes comprehensive commentary, which too few Bibles have.
The time has come to protest to anyone who will listen that the church must stand for what Jesus stood for or it will fall. It stood for a life which at least aspires to sinlessness in the face of the knowledge that we are fallen and will forever be so as long as we inhabit these mortal coils.
Jesus told us to accept sinners and to love them , not to condone their sins. He wants us to exhort sinners to give up their sins, not to embrace those sins and build churches around them. He wants us to love the sinner. To love them, we cannot in good conscience tell them that God believes sin is acceptable as a lifestyle. That would be akin to rewriting the Bible to say that Jesus told Mary Magdalene to "Go, and sin some more."
Finally, a prayer: God, please open our eyes to the evil within our world and open our hearts to the sinners therein. Give us courage to tell them what You said about sin – that it is something to be gotten rid of, by the grace of God. Lord, through your Holy Spirit, give us strength to set aside sin in all its forms and to speak the truth in love to those we see sinning, so that they will step out of their flesh and into Your Spirit and Your love. Give us courage to speak up when we see evil and a heart to love you so that we ever do Your will as it is written. Amen.