The Proliferation of Religion

By Tom Wacaster

When I was growing up I was blessed to sit at the feet of good and godly men who taught our Sunday morning high school class, Wednesday evening class, and an occasional but regular men’s training class.  It was during those six or seven years that I developed a desire to preach, a burning within my soul that would come to fruition immediately following my discharge from military service in 1970.   There were a half dozen young men who attended those classes at the Urbandale church of Christ in Dallas, and  each of us were blessed beyond measure from the training we received that would eventually lead to many of us being active teachers, preachers, and leaders in the Lord’s church.  While this is not the thrust of this week’s article I must pause and remind all of us that the classes at the local congregational level have a great influence upon those who sit at our feet. I doubt that those men who taught our classes at Urbandale had any idea what influence they would have on us  young boys who barely had a handle on life itself.  But I digress, and must get back to the intent of this article.  

I guess it was during those teen years that I began to grasp the magnitude of religious division, both in number and in the degrees of error embraced by the various denominations.  The number of religious divisions within so-called “Christendom” was astonishing.  The common number selected as a total of religious divisions was 250; but even then I suspected there may have been more.  Little did I imagine that within my life time that number would grow; in fact it would multiply many times over.   Investigation by the inquiring individual will reveal that the number of denominations in America now numbers into the thousands, and one figure being bandied about is in excess of 10,000.  How has this come about?   Why is it that people living in a country that has such deep roots in the Bible seem to care less about  such division?  The division in “Christendom” is bad enough.  Lets add to that the infiltration of eastern religions, pantheism, humanism, agnosticism, and dozens of other “isms,” and the religious landscape in our country is more like the idolatrous situation that existed in Athens when Paul arrived into that city than what we might think characterizes a nation that has its roots in Christianity.  Bobbly Liddell made this astute observation: 

One reason that current religions are where they are today is because many of their participants are the product of an educational system that has produced a generation (or two) of graduates who have been heavily influenced by atheistic Humanism and the false ideas of organic evolution, into thinking that there is no God and that truth is only relative, situational, and subjective...Bibles are looked upon as out of date oddities and are dusty and  hidden from view, even in the homes of religious people.  Knowledge of the Bible, that should have been learned at home, is woefully deficient, or entirely absent, and wolves in sheep’s clothing prey upon the biblically ignorant, spiritually weak, and defenseless.  We have jumped off the cultural cliff and are falling headlong into the abyss of immorality.  Yet every day the media assures us that there is a ‘new normal,’ far removed from the antiquated beliefs upon which our country was founded.  Modern America boasts of its tolerance and progressive enlightenment, yet silences God, forbidding mention of His name and His Word and public prayer to Him, and vilifies those who cry out against the sins of a country our President proclaimed is “no longer a Christian nation” (Spiritual Sword, In Times Like These, page 168). 

Some years ago I gave thought to keeping a tablet in my automobile and every time I passed one of those new independent churches that has put some attention getting name on their building, that I would add that to the list.  I never started that list and have on many occasions regretted not having done so.   A quick search on the internet lists an amazing array of churches in our city. Just to name a few of the denominations:  Anglican churches (2); Apostolic churches (7); Bible churches (18); Evangelical churches (11); Pentecostals (20); and Other churches (63).  Other names include, but are not limited to “Calvary Cathedral,” “Morningside Episcopal,” “Celebration Fellowship,” “Gospel Kingdom Church,” “Beautiful Feet Church,” “Victory Outreach,” “Harvest Assembly,” “Journey Church,” “Seeking God First Church,” “Greater Progressive Church,” “Great Prayer Tower Holiness Church,” “Love Sanctuary,” “Pilgrim Rest Church,” “John 316 Temple,” and “Denny’s Friends.”  It is enough to discourage even the most stout hearted in a search for some kind of stability and standard in matters of religion.

Most, if not all of the mainline Protestant denominations grew out of a background of deep seated belief in a particular theological system.  Though wrong in doctrine, those who came to the New World to seek freedom to practice their religious beliefs maintained a strong belief in the Bible and a sincere reverence for things spiritual in general and worship in particular.  But somewhere in the mid to late 1800’s reverence for God and a desire to pay homage to the Almighty began to give way to a self centered religion.  In the mid nineteenth century the frontier “revival” form of worship started to take on a “circus atmosphere,” and the main function of the public assembly shifted from an occasion for worshipping God to a focus on bringing in the “converts” and increasing the numbers.  John McArthur noted that these churches “were not trying to hit at the core of biblical faith; they were simply trying to make Christianity more palatable to a cynical world.”  Even the late and illustrious Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon sounded the warning of a shift away from a Biblical foundation to a “feel good” approach to religion.  His cries went unheeded.  What we are witnessing today in this mass proliferation of religions is the result of that trend which began in the late 1800’s and accelerated toward the end of the 20th century. Today identification with any particular religious body is not based so much on doctrine as it is on what that church can do for the individual.   If a church does not meet the self-centered demands of any particular member, that member simply starts another church, with a different name, and some kind of unique, catchy title, or some bizarre practice (moral or spiritual) that satisfies their immoral penchant or twisted way of thinking.  A good case in point came to my attention last week when I was directed to a web page featuring yet another church called “Beer And Hymns.”  It is a spin off of the First Christian Church in Portland, Oregon.  The author of this little tidbit of information described this new “church” thus:  “With mainline religious congregations dwindling across America, a scattering of churches is trying to attract new members by creating a different sort of Christian community. They are gathering around craft beer.  Some church groups are brewing it themselves, while others bring the Holy Mysteries to a taproom.  The result is not sloshed congregants; rather, it’s an exploratory approach to do church differently.”  The “pastor” of this church, Amy Piatt, believes that church is going to be “something different” and what it is to be “we are still finding out...But it’s lovely, God is still there, and that’s what’s most important.”  

Sensible, Bible loving seekers of truth recognize immediately that the above approach to “do church” is so far removed from the teachings of the Bible that we scratch our heads in utter astonishment.   But the “Beer and Hymns” church is a good example of how pragmatism, humanism, postmodernism, and will worship have contributed to a trend in which every man becomes a law unto himself, and the final outcome can be more proliferation of religion; all in the name of religion.  How sad!

Someday A Better Thanksgiving

by Tom Wacaster

It has been more than three decades since the late Adair Chapman shared the following story with his readers:  

As most families in the community were gathering around dining tables for Thanksgiving dinner, I stood with another family and a few friends who had quietly assembled in the small country cemetery to bid an earthly farewell to a young man who had  died in defense of his country.  Down the road, sounds of laughter and exchanged greetings between those who had come home for a holiday reunion seemed in cruel contrast with the suppressed sobs of the bereaved.   The simple graveside service over, we returned to the house where friends and neighbors had prepared dinner for the family. Sympathetic neighbors could provide food and speak words of comfort, but there was on thing they could not do.  They could not fill the empty chair that remained unoccupied during the meal.  As the little family ate in silence, the father turned his face and looked through the window toward the hillside where the beautiful floral arrangements would soon wilt, and slowly remarked, “Someday, there’ll be a better Thanksgiving.”

One week from tomorrow our nation will celebrate Thanksgiving Day.   It has been recorded in the pages of history, and the annals of Congress, that this nation of ours should set aside and recognize one day a year as “Thanksgiving Day.”  I cannot remember a single year that has ever  passed wherein I was denied the opportunity to observe this national holiday, and most of the time those days of celebration were spent with family.  This Thursday will be my 66th such occasion, even though the  first dozen years are not as vivid in my memory as the past dozen.  “Thanksgiving Day”!  What do those words mean to you?  What thoughts and memories do they conjure up in your mind?  To some, Thanksgiving Day is one of back-to-back football games, early morning Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on television, the smell of turkey cooking in the oven, and left overs at days end.  To others it is nothing more than an  extended weekend, an extra day at the office, or an opportunity to spend some time in a lease waiting for  that deer to drop by your way so you can “bag” a six pointer, or tell about the one that got away.  And, sadly, to some it will be a day of ill health, loss of a loved one, or some tragedy that might strike at some unexpected moment in our life.  

Thanksgiving Day should cause us to pause and reflect on our good fortune and “every good gift and every perfect gift” that has come down to us “from the Father of lights, with whom there can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning” (James 1:17). But it should also cause those who are God’s children to reflect upon that day when the “better Thanksgiving” will be bestowed upon us.   The words spoken by that bereaved father in brother Chapman’s story are the expression of those who hope in heaven, and look forward to that time when we shall be forever reunited with our spiritual family.   In that day God shall wipe away every tear from our eyes.  There will be no more death, sorrow, pain or suffering.  “Someday” we will sit down at a table so unlike the Thanksgiving Day table at which we will sit next week and join hands and give thanks to the Father in heaven.  “Someday” our thanksgiving will be expressed not just on one day, but throughout eternity as we bow at the feet of our Father.   Turkey and dressing will not fill our stomachs, but the fruit from the tree of life. 

After the celebration of Thanksgiving Day, many of us will bid farewell to our children, grandchildren, parents and in-laws who have come to enjoy the food and fellowship.  For some that farewell will be for only a few days; for others the time between visits will be months, if not years.  For some it will be the last farewell this side of eternity.  But “someday,” when the Lord comes again, “we that are alive, who are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17). 

Wherever you happen to find yourself this year when our national Thanksgiving Day arrives, be sure to use the day for the purpose for which it was intended and give thanks to the Father Who has so richly blessed you.  And then take a few moments and remember that someday there will be a better Thanksgiving.

An Astonishing Choice

by Tom Wacaster

“Now at the feast the governor was wont to release unto the multitude one prisoner, whom they would.  And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas. When therefore they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” (Matt. 27:15-17).  I don’t know where the “custom” originated that allowed the Jews to select some prisoner for release, but likely it had to do with Rome’s attempt to appease the Jews by granting liberty to some political prisoner.  After all, Israel was almost at constant odds with Rome politically. 

Little did Pilate imagine that this Jewish mob would, when given the choice, prefer a cold-blooded killer over a man Who went about doing good, and against Whom no charge of wrong could be levied.  Oh yes, Barabbas was a “notable” prisoner; no doubt a seditionist, a zealot who hated Rome and Rome’s occupation of the Promised Land.  Somewhere in the recesses of the not-too-distant past this man had taken someone’s life.  Arrested, tried, and convicted he was confined to a prison in Jerusalem to await his execution by crucifixion.  Here was a murderer, a seditionist, deserving of the death that awaited him along with the two thieves who would eventually be crucified with Christ.  Little did Barabbas imagine that in the early hours of the very day of his scheduled execution he would be granted not only a stay of execution, but a full release from prison.  In an attempt to appease the angry mob,  Pilate offered the Jews a choice.  Knowing the Jews had delivered up Jesus out of jealousy, he asked, “Who shall I release to you?  Jesus, or Barabbas.”   It is rather ironic that the name “Barabbas” means “son of father” (“Bar” meaning “son of,” and “abba” meaning “father”).  That dark night in Jerusalem, Israel was given the choice between two men as to whom they would accept, and whom they would reject. Jesus was the Son of the Father of all men; Barabbas the son of some unnamed man.  Was Barabbas’ earthly father still alive?  Did he live in Jerusalem?  Was he aware of the fate of his son, and the turn of events that would set this man free?  No information is provided.  But this we know about the “father” of each of these men.  The father of one, if alive, or even aware of his son’s life, must have hung his head in shame.  The Father of the Other was “well pleased” with the love and obedience demonstrated by His Son’s short thirty-three year earthly tenor.   

To appease the crown, Pilate gave the mob a choice: Jesus or Barabbas!  The governor must have been shocked to hear that the people preferred this vile, wicked murderer to Jesus.   But that is the choice they made.  And their choice echoes through the halls of history revealing the extreme to which men will go when they are determined to rid their lives of Jesus.   The atheist selects Barabbas over Jesus when he rejects the abundant evidence of the existence of God and deity of Jesus.  He plays the fool (Psa. 14:1) and willfully closes his eyes to the abundant “proofs” that declare the glory of God and shows His wonderful handiwork (Psa. 19:1).  In exchange he offers nothing to the world but a bleak outlook on life and an eternity filled with hopeless non existence. 

The profligate likewise selects Barabbas over Jesus when he follows in the footsteps of that notorious criminal who had little respect for life and no respect for authority.  Desiring to live a life of debauchery, the profligate rejects every attempt to reign in a life that is out of control, and chooses instead to continue his journey into the dark night of indulgence and self pleasure.

The unethical abortionist, unloving mother, and uncaring society select Barabbas over Jesus every time a baby is torn from his mother’s womb and the masses of a society remain silent without so  much as a whimper or wailing cry!   Right and wrong mean nothing, and the value of human life even less to those who chose Barabbas over Jesus so that they might escape the responsibility that comes with bringing a child into this world.

The list goes on!  The homosexual selects Barabbas over Jesus for an unholy, perverted life style.  The religious leaders and foolish followers who perpetrate, perpetuate, or participate in religious error have selected Barabbas over Jesus.  The child of God that turns back to the filth of the world has made a bad choice.  Every lukewarm, indifferent, undedicated, uncommitted child of God who allow pleasure to come between them and their God, have selected Barabbas over Jesus.  Cowardly elders who choose to appease rebellious members rather than have the whole counsel of God preached, have likewise selected Barabbas over Jesus. 

Yes, the choice those Jews made on that fateful day has been repeated by untold billions.  When men choose a person, philosophy or policy over Christ, have they not called for the release of Barabbas over the Christ?  “Not this man, but Barabbas!”  Whether in person, principle, or way of life, when men choose to “crucify” Christ afresh they are asking for Barabbas over Christ.   Every time someone rejects the authority of Christ for tradition, family religion, or a moral life style contrary to the teaching of the New Testament, they have asked for Barabbas over Jesus.  When we turn away from Christ and give in to anger, selfishness, envy, jealousy, hatred, evil speaking, we have chosen Barabbas instead of Jesus.

Each of us will eventually find ourselves in the shoes of Pilate.   Not to try Jesus, or to hear the arguments of the rebellious mob who rejected and crucified our Lord.  Like Pilate, each one of us will, at least one time, face the decision of whether to choose Jesus or Barabbas.  Dear friend, what choice will you make? Barabbas or Jesus?

Our Society's Double Standard

by Tom Wacaster

Those guided by an absolute standard of right and wrong have no problem being consistent when it comes to life's decisions and/or personal convictions.   Sane folks recognize the double standard that is presently in place in our society, whether you call it “political correctness,” “apathy” or “abject indifference.”  We marvel at the ability of politicians to lie through their proverbial “teeth” while looking straight into the camera or leaning ever closer to the microphone and telling us that they are telling the truth.  It has been more than three decades since a former President of the United States was accused, but never convicted, of perjury.  In the heat of that political scandal during the mid 90’s, after it became obvious that the President had lied on that (and a number of other occasions) someone made the following observation:  “We all know the Clintons lie. What bothers me is that they do it with such ease.” Solomon concluded there is “nothing new under the sun,” and two decades later political figures in high places have openly, blatantly, and seemingly without any concern for moral integrity, lied to the American public, all the while denying they have done such.    This past week an effort was made to defend the bold and brazen lying of the man who now sits in the Oval Office and occupies the highest office in our land.  The excuse? “It isn't a lie if you did not intend to keep the promise.”  Reminds me of another President who once said, “Yes, I smoked marijuana but I didn’t inhale!”   Say what?   You mean to tell me that if you make a promise but have no intention of keeping the promise that it is not lying?  What sort of rationale is that?  To put it another way, a person could intentionally tell a lie and it is not a lie.   The same kind of insanity ruled in Israel during the days of Isaiah when good was called evil, and evil good.   There is so much inconsistency in Washington and on the public airways that one wonders if some alien has come to this world and captured and carried logic and reason off to some remote planet!   Let me share with you some tidbits of information from the not-too-distant past that illustrate the inconsistencies of the world in which we live:

First, some years ago front page headlines, editorials, emails and blogs focused their attention on the selection of Sonia Sotomayor by Barack Obama for the Supreme Court nominee.  In a news conference the President stated that the Sotomayor reflects his “philosophy” of the U.S. Constitution.   However, during his campaign for the office of President, when asked what criteria he would use in selecting someone to the bench on the highest court in our land, he assured the voters that he would appoint only those who reflected a “proper judicial understanding” of the U.S. Constitution, and would not under any circumstances appoint judges who would legislate from the bench.   His was an attempt to calm the fears of those “moderates” who might not vote for him had he told the truth about his position on intended selection and appointment of Supreme Court judges.  Well, we now know exactly what his “philosophy” of the Constitution means.  But what bothers me is how he could lie to the American people while “thinking” he was telling the truth. 

Second, in the Dallas morning news of June 1, 2009, a front page article read as follows:  “Abortion doctor is slain at church.” George Tiller, a member of the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas, was shot and killed shortly after services had ended the morning before.   Tiller was well known as one of the few doctors who performed abortions late in pregnancy.   I want you to read the closing paragraph as it appeared in that Dallas Morning News article:  “Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said the slaying would ‘send a chill down the spines of the brave and courageous providers’ offering abortion to American women” (Dallas Morning News, June 1, 2009, page 9A).   Does this not seem a little inconsistent to you?  Here is a spokeswoman for pro-abortionists who looks upon an abortionist, and particularly Dr. Tillman who was willing to kill babies in the womb, as being a “brave and courageous” person?   Since when is it a “brave” and “courageous” thing to kill babies in the womb?   While we do not condone the murder of George Tillman, it amazes us that pro-abortionists cannot see the double standard here.  

Finally, there is the entire incident surrounding the intended, yet still unaccomplished closing of Guantanamo detention center in the name of human rights.  Our President has expressed his belief that the treatment of terrorist detainees was indeed “torture” and that America will not be involved in torture.  Well excuse me, Mr. President, but did you not, when serving as a Senator, refuse to sign a measure that would have stopped the torture of babies who happened to be fortunate enough to survive the abortion attempt on the part of their unloving mothers and murderous doctors?  In fact, were you not the only Senator who refused to sign that bill?  Did you not affirm that you would be in favor of allowing an infant who happened to live through an abortion attempt to be deprived of food and medical care to save its life?  If that is not “torture” then perhaps I need to go back to school and become enlightened by the same radical and liberal philosophy that you hold toward life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness!   Seems to me there is a double standard being used by he who holds the highest office in the land and upheld by the liberal constituents in Washington.

The point of this article is to bear upon the minds of our readers that there is obviously a double standard that guides the thinking of those who have rejected God, the Bible, and everything that is holy and right.  The further a person, or group of people, drifts from God, the worse that double standard becomes.  The glaring inconsistencies of many of our politicians, social reformers, and common man on the street does not surprise us; but it still saddens us.   The wide chasm that exists between the “absolute” and “all-sufficient” standard, i.e. the word of God, and the complete lack of a moral guide by so many in our sin-sick society, whether in Washington or on Main Street USA, ought to be enough to wake us up to the tragedy that awaits us - a tragedy that lurks just around the corner.   Personally, I am glad that I can wake up each morning with the full realization that I have a divine standard that guides me and instructs me in things pertaining to life and godliness.  The absence of such an absolute standard in the life of an individual leaves him no better off than a boat without a compass or rudder, while steaming full speed ahead into the darkness of immorality and the void of a mindless and purposeless existence.