Monday, July 25, 2016

Facing the Greatest Danger

Can we all agree that we live in troubled, troubling times? I have a friend, typically an optimist, who admits he’s become quite bothered by the turmoil in our nation and around the world. So much so that he now quips, “I’m very optimistic – I’m positive things are going to get worse!”

As a society, we seem more disconnected than ever. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear about a push to rename the United States of America, calling it instead the Untied States of America. The perceived divides include race, economics, gender, basic values, and ideology.

Remember the song, “Come Together,” originally sung by the Beatles and later by Aerosmith and others? There doesn’t appear to be much coming together in our land these days. Add the fears surrounding ever-present threats of terrorism, violence, and a political scene that’s chaotic at best. Even technology, for all of its benefits, has also presented some decided liabilities. Are we really better off? We’ve got lots of questions, but answers seem scarce.

So if someone were to ask you what you considered the greatest danger facing us today, how would you respond? What do you see as the greatest threat to life as we’ve known it?

Recently I heard an interesting observation from someone who passed from the scene long before the 21st century began. You might have heard of William Booth. He was the British preacher who founded the highly regarded Salvation Army, now one of the largest distributors of humanitarian aid in many parts of the world.

Booth died in 1912, but offered a perspective that might lead us to believe he had just returned from a time machine excursion decades into the future.

As the beginning of the 20th century was approaching, Booth was asked to comment on what he believed to be the greatest danger society would be facing as the 1800s drew to a close.

He paused thoughtfully and then responded, “The chief danger that confronts the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, heaven without hell.”

Even though Booth was gazing toward the 20th century, his insights could apply just as easily to where we are today in the midst of the 21st century’s second decade.

Alistair Begg, a native of Scotland who currently serves as senior pastor of Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, has observed that in the name of tolerance and seeking to attract more worshipers, the gospel message in many churches has been diluted drastically and biblical interpretation softened to make it more accommodating.

The result, however, has been what 2 Timothy 3:5 describes as an institutional church having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.”

A few lines later, the apostle Paul warns his disciple Timothy, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:5). Another translation states it this way: “wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires.”

It’s understandable for people in the secular world to select views that align with their own preferences and prejudices, but the greater problem occurs as evangelical congregations and denominations begin watering down their message in an effort to pack the pews.

Yes, the message of Jesus Christ is offensive to many. But that’s the way it’s always been. As 1 Peter 2:8 declares, “’He is the stone that makes people stumble, the rock that makes them fall.’ They stumble because they do not obey God's word….”

So the issue facing each of us who claim to be followers of Jesus, as we read and study the Scriptures, is to honestly ask ourselves, “What does it say?” and not, “What do I want it to say?” or, “What does society – or government – tell us it should say?”

As Booth sagely pointed out many years before any of us were born, a faith formulated by excluding Christ, His Spirit, repentance, recognition of a need for regeneration, acknowledgement of God’s role in the affairs of mankind, or eternal consequences for our actions, isn’t faith at all. It’s foolishness, an exercise in futility. 

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