The Church Is a Changing

In the past two decades, society and churches have endured significant challenges and gone through some sizeable changes. Obviously, COVID has brought about its own set of issues, but many developments began long before the pandemic.

In addition to differences in the average worship service, the general makeup of churches has undergone substantial shifts since the late 1990s, according to the National Congregational Study (NCS).

These six changes have been felt across the country in communities and congregations.

More diverse

Churches are more ethnically diverse than they were in 1998, as those who are at least 80% white has declined from 71.2% to 53.4% in 2018.

Twenty years ago, only 33% of churches had any Hispanic attendees. Now, a majority (51%) say at least one Hispanic person is involved with their congregation. Similarly, in 1998, 17.9% of churches said they had someone in their church who had immigrated to the U.S. in the past five years. That has increased to 27.7%. The percentage of churches with an Asian or Pacific Islander member has also grown, climbing from 17.9% to 27.7%.

A 2017 Lifeway Research study found 80% of U.S. Protestant pastors say every church should strive to achieve racial diversity. Still, 81% say their congregation is predominantly made up of one racial or ethnic group. That is down, however, from 86% who said that was the case in 2013.

This increased congregational diversity is a better reflection of the community diversity surrounding church buildings, according to the NCS. In 1998, a quarter of churches (25.4%) said their neighborhood was at least 5% Hispanic. Today, that has increased to 59.6%.

More educated

The percentage of churchgoers who have at least a college degree has almost doubled in the past two decades—15.4% to 30.4%. The jump brings the church closer in line educationally with the rest of the country.

According to U.S. Census data, the percentage of American adults with a college degree is 32.1%. Close to 10 years ago, it was 27.5%. At that time, the percentage in churches was 20%, according to the NCS.

This may not mean, however, that churches are doing a better job of reaching those with increased formal education. It may indicate that churches are increasingly struggling to connect with those who do not attend college.

According to the General Social Survey, those with less formal education are among the most likely to avoid church. Those with only a high school diploma (34%) or less (29%) are more likely to never attend church than those who at least attended college (24%).

Less politically conservative

According to the NCS, pastors are now less likely to describe their church as politically conservative. In 1998, 62% of churches were “more on the conservative side” politically, with 30.6% saying they were “right in the middle” and 7.4% “more on the liberal side.” In the latest survey, politically conservative churches slid to 45.8%, while politically moderate churches increased to 39.1% and politically liberal churches doubled to 15.1%.

The political shifts have not been accompanied by theological ones. Churches are just as likely to say they are theologically conservative today (54.1%) as they were 20 years ago. Also, pastors are more likely to consider the Bible to be inerrant now (82.3%) than 1998 (76.2%).

More urban, less rural

After decades of emphasis on planting churches in cities, a majority of U.S. churches are in urban areas—up from 41.8% in 1998 to 59.8% today. Correspondingly, a smaller percentage of churches are in rural areas—down from 43.4% to 24.7%.

Churchgoers are even more concentrated in cities. More than 3 in 4 U.S. churchgoers (76.9%) say their church is an urban area, compared to 13.1% who say it is in a rural area.

More open to alcohol

Fewer churches say they have membership or leadership restrictions on people who drink alcohol in moderation. In the early 2000s, 71.7% of churches said such people could hold full-fledged membership in the congregation. That’s climbed to 84.7%. Those who say moderate alcohol drinkers can hold any volunteer leadership position open to other members has also increased from 52.6% to 64.5%.

In a 2017 Lifeway Research survey, 41% of U.S. Protestant churchgoers said they drank alcohol, essentially unchanged from the 39% in 2007. In that same period, however, fewer churchgoers say they believe Scripture indicates people should never drink alcohol (23% down from 29%). In 2017, 55% of churchgoers said the Bible taught all beverages, including alcohol, can be consumed without sin, while 87% said the Bible says people should never get drunk.

More tech savvy

As technology has grown more ubiquitous in culture, most churches have followed suit—adding websites and social media. In 1998, 17.1% of churches had a website. Now, that’s 71.6%. In 2012, 25.5% of churches had a Facebook page, which has climbed to 72.5% now.

According to a 2017 Lifeway Research study, U.S. Protestant churches are even more likely to have their own website (84%) and Facebook page (84%). In 2010, Lifeway Research found less than half (47%) had a Facebook page.

A. Earls

The Toughest Job You Will Ever Have

Parenting is a weighty responsibility. Soon after the initial joys of being a parent set it, we are met with this truth. This most adorable little person is entirely dependent upon me for nearly everything. The burdens are myriad: physical, emotional, financial, educational, etc. But it’s the spiritual burden that rises above the others. As parents, we have the responsibility to teach and lead our children to God. What makes this so unsettling is the fact that it’s neither easy nor automatic. Our kids don’t become Christians just because we are. It’s not an inalienable right we walk into, like voting for American children when they turn 18. No, our children must believe the gospel for themselves.

When we consider the responsibility of parenting, we need to have three truths in mind. First, parents are commanded to teach and train their children (Eph. 6:4). Second, our children, like everyone else, are born totally depraved and alienated from God (Eph. 2:13). Third, the gospel is powerful; it saved us, and it can save them (Rom. 1:16–17).

So what do we do in light of these three theological truths? The combination of these three can keep us up at night. Feeling the weight of the burden, you should parent like you can save your kids and pray like you can’t.

Parent Like You Can Save Your Kids

There’s a temptation when we consider God’s sovereignty to throw up our hands and be complacent. But reducing our Christian experience to fatalism is as unhelpful as it is unbiblical. God is sovereign, but he’s also a God of means. He uses people like you and me, parents, as means to accomplish his ordained ends. So what do we do?

Love them. Love is expressed with actions (1 Cor. 13:4–7). This requires presence with our children. There should be intentionality of daily expressing love, humility, service, forgiveness, and grace. Make them laugh. Smile with them. Let them know that you love them as God loves in the gospel. Therefore, no matter what they do, you’ll never love them any less.

Train them. Parents are to shepherd their hearts with the word of God (Eph. 6:4). This requires the correction from what is wrong and the training in what is right. But it’s more than only discipline; parents are to teach their children God’s Word (Deut. 4:9, 6:7; 11:19). Knowing that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ (Rom. 10:17), we must have the gospel on our lips, that God might be pleased to bring it home to their hearts.

Protect them. Obviously, our younger children need to be protected, but sometimes we forget this as the kids get older. Parents who feel the pressure of being restrictive in other areas will often loosen things up when it comes to entertainment, technology, and their friends. If I could encourage the younger parents concerned about appearing legalistic, as a dad of three adult children and a friend of dozens more, these small compromises of personal convictions or principles are often pathways to much bigger problems than you can anticipate. If you are a parent who’s concerned about your child, be sure that you’re more concerned about how to have a clear conscience before God than being well-thought-of by others. Doing what’s right is often challenging. But it’s safer and more reasonable than violating your conscience.

Pray Like You Can’t Save Them

God has not left us helpless. He calls us to pray. Recognizing the urgency of the situation and our own helplessness to change it on our own, we storm the throne of grace in prayer (Heb. 4:16).

Think of each day when you awake as fresh snow. There are no tracks. All is quiet. Then you get up and bring your petitions to God for your children. You pray for their salvation. You pray for them to honor Christ. You pray for their studies in school. You pray for their potential spouses. You pray for them to serve in Christ’s church. You pray for them to grow in their understanding and love of the Bible. You pray for them to be faithful. You pray for God to supply a rich gospel legacy. You pray for them to steward their lives and the gospel well. You pray for them. What a privilege!

But this is also a priority. They need us to pray. What happens if we get lazy as parents? We won’t pray if we presume upon God’s grace, minimize the danger of sin, undervalue the joy of holiness, or overestimate our ability to parent them. This troubles me. It convicts me. Not praying for our kids is neglecting one of the best and most loving things we can do for them. To not pray for our children is to neglect their souls. It is to fail to do them spiritual good. We may rightly impugn those who ignore their children’s most basic needs (food, shelter, clothing, time, development, and so on). However, how indicting is it if we as Christians fail to make tracks to the throne of grace?

Pray like a helpless, trusting parent who desires to see their child saved.

Pray and Parent

This is hard work. It is, however, the work of faith, the work of dependence, and the work of love. It’s gospel work. It is Christian parenting. So get to work, in the prayer closet and at the kitchen table; plead Christ to them and them to Christ!

E. Raymond

Know Your Vaccines

The following is a list of different types of vaccines, their method of attacking a pathogen, risks, and which pathogens they are used against.  (It can be daunting but it gives you a working knowledge)

“All vaccines work by exposing the body to molecules from the target pathogen to trigger an immune response – but the method of exposure varies.”5

Of course, there are risks to all vaccines, immunizations, and inoculations.  By the way, “…vaccines are made up of a partial, weakened, or dead version of a scientist-made germ, bacterium or virus.”12 An “Immunization is the process wherein a person is made immune or resistant to an infectious disease, typically by the administration of a vaccine.”11  An inoculation “describes the introduction of a substance into the body to confer protection.”11

  1. Conjugate Vaccines
    1. See “subunit vaccines” below
  2. DNA Vaccines
    1. Method
      1. “DNA vaccines, which are often referred to as the third-generation vaccines, use engineered DNA to induce an immunologic response in the host against bacteria, parasites, viruses, and potentially cancer…any DNA vaccine involves the use of a DNA plasmid that encodes for a protein that originated from the pathogen in which the vaccine will be targeted.”6
      2. “It involves the injection of naked DNA that encodes antigens under the control of a eukaryotic promoter, and results in strong and sustained humoral and cell–mediated responses.”7
    2. Risks
      1. “Currently, there are no DNA vaccines that have been approved for widespread use in humans.”6
      2. “DNA injected intravenously into pregnant mice reaches fetuses.”7
    3. Used against
      1. Possible HIV usage6 though none are cleared for use.
  3. Inactivated vaccines (Whole Virus Vaccine)
    1. Method
      1. “Inactivated vaccines use the killed version of the germ that causes a disease.”1
      2. “Inactivated vaccines use viruses whose genetic material has been destroyed so they cannot replicate, but can still trigger an immune response.”3
      3. “Inactivated vaccines contain viruses whose genetic material has been destroyed by heat, chemicals or radiation so they cannot infect cells and replicate, but can still trigger an immune response.”5
    2. Risks
      1. “Minor adverse reactions such as local Local (or localized )Restricted or limited to a specific body part or region. redness and swelling, fever and agitation are very common with wP vaccines (10 – 50%).”10
    3. Used against
      1. Hepatitus A, Flu (shot only), Polio, Rabies1
  4. Live-attenuated vaccines (Whole Virus Vaccine)
    1. Method
      1. “Live vaccines use a weakened (or attenuated) form of the germ that causes a disease.”1 The germ is still alive, but weakened.
      2. “Live attenuated vaccines use a weakened form of the virus that can still replicate without causing illness.”3
    2. Risks
      1. “may risk causing disease in people with weak immune systems.”3
    3. Used against
      1. Measles, mumps, rubella, rotavirus, smallpox, chickenpox, yellow fever1
  5. MRNA, Messenger RNA vaccines
    1. Method
      1. “mRNA vaccines make proteins in order to trigger an immune response.”1  They do not contain a live germ.
      2. “mRNA vaccines do not use the live virus that causes COVID-19…mRNA never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA (genetic material) is kept.”2
    2. Used against
      1. Covid 191
  6. Recombinant Vector vaccines
    1. Method
      1. “Recombinant vaccines are made using bacterial or yeast cells to manufacture the vaccine. A small piece of DNA is taken from the virus or bacterium against which we want to protect and inserted into the manufacturing [bacterial or yeast] cells.”9
      2. “act like a natural infection, so they’re especially good at teaching the immune system how to fight germs.”1
      3. “Replicating recombinant vector vaccines consist of a fully competent viral vector backbone engineered to express an antigen from a foreign transgene.”8
    2. Used against
      1. Hepatitis B9
  7. Subunit, recombinant, polysaccharide, and conjugate vaccines
    1. Method
      1. “…do not contain any whole bacteria or viruses at all.”9
      2. “Subunit, recombinant, polysaccharide, and conjugate vaccines use specific pieces of the germ—like its protein, sugar, or capsid (a casing around the germ).”1
    2. Risks
      1. “the immune response may be weaker.”3
      2. “Subunit vaccines do not always create such a strong or long-lasting immune response as live attenuated vaccines.”9
      3. “Because these fragments are incapable of causing disease, subunit vaccines are considered very safe.”4
    3. Used against
      1. Hib, Hepatitis B, Human papillomavirus, Whooping cough, Pneumococcal disease, Meningococcal disease, shingles1
  8. Toxoid vaccines
    1. Method
      1. “Toxoid vaccines use a toxin (harmful product) made by the germ that causes a disease. They create immunity to the parts of the germ that cause a disease instead of the germ itself. That means the immune response is targeted to the toxin instead of the whole germ.”1
      2. “Some bacteria release toxins (poisonous proteins) when they attack the body, and it is the toxins rather than the bacteria itself that we want to be protected against. The immune system recognises these toxins in the same way that it recognises other antigens on the surface of the bacteria, and is able to mount an immune response to them. Some vaccines are made with inactivated versions of these toxins. They are called ‘toxoids’ because they look like toxins but are not poisonous.”9
    2. Risks
      1. “Anaphylaxis, An acute, multi-system, allergic reaction (IgE mediated) to a substance, such as vaccination, drugs, and food. Symptoms of anaphylaxis may include breathing difficulties, loss of consciousness, and a drop in blood pressure. This condition can be fatal and requires immediate medical attention. (1.6 per million doses) and brachial neuritis Brachial neuritis (also known as brachial plexus neuropathy or neuralgic amyotrophy) A neuropathy that presents as a deep, steady, often severe aching pain in the shoulder and upper arm and may include muscular weakness. (0.69 cases per 10 million) are extremely rare.”10
    3. Used against
      1. Diphtheria, Tetanus,1 whooping cough9
  9. Viral vector vaccines
    1. Method
      1. “Viral vector vaccines use a modified version of a different virus as a vector to deliver protection.”1
      2. “…they use a harmless virus, different from the one the vaccine is targeting, to deliver these instructions into the cell.”3
      3. “using harmless viruses to deliver the genetic code of target vaccine antigens to cells of the body, so that they can produce protein antigens to stimulate an immune response.”9
    2. Used against
      1. Covid 191
  10. Whole Virus
    1. There are two types of Whole Virus Vaccines: Live attenuated and inactivated, listed above.

M. Slick

Ladies, What Submission Is Not!

The Lord is raising up a veritable army of holy women holding men accountable for abuse in the home, church, and society. Women such as Rachel Denhollander, Jennifer Greenberg, Diane Langberg, Naghmeh Panahi, and Julie Roys are telling their stories and/or those of others. In the process, they are shining light on leaders who are using their positions to take advantage of women or failing to protect them. In addition, they are helping the church see what is taking place and offering ways to address this matter.

One of the key principles from Scripture that they are addressing is that of submission. Christians wives, dutiful church members, and even godly elders can have a false understanding of this biblical concept and, as a result, a harmful environment is created. Perhaps a brief case study of what submission is not from a key place in Scripture is instructive.

In Ephesians 5:23, we have a relatively straightforward command. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” However, all manner of interpretations abound, creating a fog of misunderstanding that puts stumbling blocks – some of which are quite dangerous – before people. They grossly distort the beauty of submission. Here then are five statements that clarify what this verse does not mean to help remove these stumbling blocks.

“Wives, submit to your own husbands” does not mean “All women are to submit to all men.”

In certain patriarchal circles, this imperative in Ephesians 5:23 is broadened. Appealing to the creation order and other texts such as 1 Timothy 2:8-15, some teach – or at least act – as if this directive includes all male and female relationships. All women are to view themselves as subordinate to all men in any given ecclesiastical or societal context.

Yet Paul is clearly addressing the marital relationship by using the terms husbands and wives. Furthermore, note the possessive. “Wives, submit to your own husbands.” This command is specific to a woman’s unique marital relationship.

“Wives, submit to your own husbands” does not mean “Husbands, submit to your wives.”

Certain interpreters like to broaden this verse in the opposite direction from above. They take the description found in the previous verse, where Paul encouraged the Ephesians to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:22), and apply it in a manner that attempts to reverse the order. In other words, they see Paul giving the church a universal command to submit to one another, then following it with examples such as wives submitting to their husbands as an instance of this universal command but not a limit on its application. Thus, they would say that, yes, a wife should submit to her husband, but because we are to submit to one another this would also mean a husband should do the same for his wife.

However, this way of reading this text simply does not stand under close scrutiny. Paul takes the universal command in verse 22 and gives further direct commands for its application in the following verses. Not only are wives to submit to husbands, but children to parents (Eph. 6:1) and servants to masters (Eph. 6:5). Those latter examples would deny any earthly authority and make Scripture nonsensical if reversed (i.e. parents submitting to children). Furthermore, the parallel analogy Paul gives in support of wives submitting to their husbands, that of the church submitting to Christ (Eph. 5:24), becomes blasphemous if reversed.

“Wives, submit to your own husbands” does not mean “Husbands, make your wives submit.”

The command here is directed to the wives, not the husbands. A husband is not to use this verse to force his wife’s submission. This verse does not give him the right to manipulate or try to guilt his wife. For the calling of the gospel itself to follow Christ is a Spirit-filled one, where the heart and will of a person are to be addressed persuasively so they freely desire to obey God. In application of the gospel, a wife is to offer her submission freely, not under the forced coercion of her husband.

If a husband wants to encourage his wife in this direction, then he has a command of his own to that end in the same neighborhood of this verse. Paul gives it to him three times in the passage where this verse is found. Husbands are to love their wives like Christ loves the church, like they do their own bodies, and like they love themselves (Eph. 5:25, 28, 33). It is a rare case indeed when a Christian man is living this way and his wife does not respond with a willing submission.

“Wives, submit to your own husbands” does not mean “Submission is only for women or is a female quality.”

Another false view is that men never have to submit to anyone. Like a trump card, this text is used to overpower other texts of Scripture on this subject. Over the years, I have become unfortunately acquainted with a number of men who became so blinded by a sense of male superiority that they believed they did not have to submit to anyone. Men such as this, though they may tout many orthodox Christian beliefs, are typically anti-governmental and do not submit to church authority.

The Bible teaches many contexts in which men are to be submissive. Clearly in this text, Paul, in calling husbands to love their wives in a Christ-like manner, is also calling them to submit to Christ, who is their head (1 Cor. 11:3). Men are to obey their church leaders (Heb. 13:17) as well as governmental ones (Rom. 13:1). Christ’s submission to his Father in his earthly ministry, as he subjected himself to his parents even as a young man (Luke 2:51) and did such things as pay taxes (Matt. 17:24-27), is a model all men are to follow.

“Wives, submit to your own husbands” does not mean “Women, accept abuse without question or intervention.”

Tragically, this text has been used by men in their homes and even church leaders with those under their charge to seek to gag women who have been verbally, physically, and/or sexually abused. Too often, a man abuses a woman, then he and others in authority teach the woman she is just to forgive and forget the incident even when the man has not repented of his actions. They will tell a woman that if she speaks further about the abuse she is not being godly and submissive. What a lie! Actually, a woman speaking directly to her husband against abuse (Gal. 6:1), involving others in the church when he persists (Matt. 18:15-20), or going to civil authorities when a crime is committed (Rom. 13:1-4) is behaving in godly obedience to Christ.

Misusing this text in this fashion is nothing short of a tyrannical abuse of power. We can call it the “Amnon Syndrome” for how sexual abuse by this son of David against Tamar was treated. The king ignored the justice due to her and her family members told her to stay quiet. Yet remember where handling this situation in this manner led? Literally and grotesquely, this situation ended up being shouted out from the rooftops by another son of David. One way or another, the Lord exposes the sin of abuse.

Certainly the Lord is doing so in our own generation. Let us remove then these stumbling blocks and, by faith, remember what true submission actually looks like. In a godly marriage, it is seen when a husband sacrifices himself in love for his wife who willingly in respect follows him. What a beautiful picture of the gospel it is to be!

B. York

Ageism Is the Newest Threat for the Oldest Among Us

Given the headlines associated with older people, even before the pandemic, it may not be surprising to discover that the last five years has seen a steep rise in ageism in the UK.

The government’s recent announcement of the Health and Social Care levy to help address funding of social care has perhaps reinforced the perception that older people are a drain on society, with many expressing concern about the impact this will have on younger generations.

You might even observe negative attitudes towards ageing amongst your church family and Christian friends. So why, when we have the certain hope and future of eternal life with God as followers of Jesus, do we fear the process of growing old — and how do we tackle it?

It’s worth remembering that ageism isn’t just about judging others based on their age, it is also about how we view our own ageing. New research has revealed that over half of UK adults now fear ageing more as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic – even for those who identify Christianity as their religion.

Five years ago, only 22% of adults were afraid of ageing, whereas now 42% say they fear ageing when asked the same question — a 91% relative change over half a decade.

As the CEO of a Christian charity that oversees care homes and independent housing across the country, I am only too aware of the common belief that as you grow older, you have less to give. Seemingly those in their later years have less purpose and therefore less value, which informs the way society – and even Christians – view the older generation. It can also shape the way older people are treated in their local church body.

I frequently run sessions in churches about how we might better care for our older people. Almost without fail, an older person will approach me at the end and describe how they were encouraged to step down from a position because of their age.

Yes, there are some things you can do as a younger person that aren’t as easy or possible when you get older. But this is only half the picture. The Bible is one of the most age inclusive books ever written. God gives incredibly important roles to both the old and the young. Abraham and his wife Sarah began a nation despite being “advanced in years” (Genesis 18:11). Scripture tells us Moses was 120 years old when he died, yet his eye was undimmed and his vigour unabated (Deuteronomy 34:7). John was in his 90s when he wrote Revelation. These were not people who God saw as being ‘past’ having a purpose, but people He saw as key to His plans. And we know God never changes.

Older people do rely on the younger generations, but it’s not a one-way street. Younger people benefit from the wisdom and experience of older people, something I noted often, even during the pandemic. During the anxiety of the pandemic, our residents have drawn alongside their carers and relatives and brought peace. This peace comes from having weathered crises before. Many have lost spouses and loved ones and have brought comfort and understanding in this time of grief and loss.

We also see this in the spiritual wisdom that older people bring. I have seen older ladies comfort carers in the tragedy of miscarriage and come alongside a loved one’s shocking and painful diagnosis. They don’t rush in with their own experience or solution when a trial or grief is shared with them, they listen and comfort. This is the beautiful fruit of maturity and experience. The spiritual maturity that comes with years is something that the Bible holds in great esteem. To have walked with the Lord and grown to know Him through that time is the gift of years. Job 12:12 says, “Wisdom is with the aged and understanding in length of days.”

It is this understanding of the mutual benefits that can exist between older and younger generations, as described in the Bible and borne out of our experience, that has driven our vision for the national renewal programme. It launches with the celebration of the opening of Middlefields House in Wiltshire in October. Organised into households of twelve, residents will live like a family and will be given opportunity to contribute to life in the home. The positives of older age will be present, encouraged and celebrated alongside the very best care and active emotional and spiritual support.

The home is designed to facilitate the residents contributing to intergenerational community and discipleship with a coffee shop, hair and beauty salon and children’s playground that will all be open to the public, along with rooms that can be hired out by local churches and community groups. Re-discovering the value of being older requires an understanding of ageing and increased interaction between older and younger people.

As Christians, we are often guilty of not valuing and plumbing the depths of the older saints around us. We don’t call on their wisdom or lean on their prayer enough and perhaps if we did that more, our attitudes towards ageing would begin to shift, we would become less fearful and we would value older people more.

Living a fulfilled life does not have a sell-by date and growing old is not something to be afraid of. Intergenerational community, discipleship and meaningful relationships are an essential part of countering the increased fear in ageing. Not because the old need the young, but because we all need each other. The effects of ageing may be the result of the worlds brokenness, but the new creation we were made for will be intergenerational.

S. Hammersley

The Law of Contradiction and Double Think

I taught a course this fall semester on totalitarian novels. We read four of them: George Orwell’s 1984, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength

The totalitarian novel is a relatively new genre. In fact, the word “totalitarian” did not exist before the 20th century. The older word for the worst possible form of government is “tyranny”—a word Aristotle defined as the rule of one person, or of a small group of people, in their own interests and according to their will. Totalitarianism was unknown to Aristotle, because it is a form of government that only became possible after the emergence of modern science and technology.

The old word “science” comes from a Latin word meaning “to know.” The new word “technology” comes from a Greek word meaning “to make.” The transition from traditional to modern science means that we are not so much seeking to know when we study nature as seeking to make things—and ultimately, to remake nature itself. That spirit of remaking nature—including human nature—greatly emboldens both human beings and governments. Imbued with that spirit, and employing the tools of modern science, totalitarianism is a form of government that reaches farther than tyranny and attempts to control the totality of things. 

In the beginning of his history of the Persian War, Herodotus recounts that in Persia it was considered illegal even to think about something that was illegal to do—in other words, the law sought to control people’s thoughts. Herodotus makes plain that the Persians were not able to do this. We today are able to get closer through the use of modern technology. In Orwell’s 1984, there are telescreens everywhere, as well as hidden cameras and microphones. Nearly everything you do is watched and heard. It even emerges that the watchers have become expert at reading people’s faces. The organization that oversees all this is called the Thought Police. 

If it sounds far-fetched, look at China today: there are cameras everywhere watching the people, and everything they do on the Internet is monitored. Algorithms are run and experiments are underway to assign each individual a social score. If you don’t act or think in the politically correct way, things happen to you—you lose the ability to travel, for instance, or you lose your job. It’s a very comprehensive system. And by the way, you can also look at how big tech companies here in the U.S. are tracking people’s movements and activities to the extent that they are often able to know in advance what people will be doing. Even more alarming, these companies are increasingly able and willing to use the information they compile to manipulate people’s thoughts and decisions.

In Aristotle, the law of contradiction is the basis of all reasoning, the means of making sense of the world. It is the law that says that X and Y cannot be true at the same time if they’re mutually exclusive. For instance, if A is taller than B and B is taller than C, C cannot be taller than A. The law of contradiction means things like that.

In our time, the law of contradiction would mean that a governor, say, could not simultaneously hold that the COVID pandemic renders church services too dangerous to allow, and also that massive protest marches are fine. It would preclude a man from declaring himself a woman, or a woman declaring herself a man, as if one’s sex is simply a matter of what one wills it to be—and it would preclude others from viewing such claims as anything other than preposterous.

The law of contradiction also means that we can’t change the past. What we can know of the truth all resides in the past, because the present is fleeting and confusing and tomorrow has yet to come. The past, on the other hand, is complete. Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas go so far as to say that changing the past—making what has been not to have been—is denied even to God. Because if something both happened and didn’t happen, no human understanding is possible. And God created us with the capacity for understanding.

That’s the law of contradiction, which the art of double think denies and violates. Double think is manifest in the fact that the state ministry in which Winston is tortured is called the Ministry of Love. It is manifest in the three slogans displayed on the state’s Ministry of Truth: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” And as we have seen, the regime in 1984 exists precisely to repeal the past. If the past can be changed, anything can be changed—man can surpass even the power of God. But still, to what end?

Why do you think you are being tortured? O’Brien asks Winston. The Party is not trying to improve you, he says—the Party cares nothing about you. Winston is brought to see that he is where he is simply as the subject of the state’s power. Understanding having been rendered meaningless, the only competence that has meaning is power. 

“Already we are breaking down the habits of thought which have survived from before the Revolution,” O’Brien says.

We have cut the links between child and parent, and between man and man, and between man and woman. No one dares trust a wife or a child or a friend any longer. But in the future there will be no wives and no friends. Children will be taken from their mothers at birth, as one takes eggs from a hen. The sex instinct will be eradicated. Procreation will be an annual formality like the renewal of a ration card. . . . There will be no loyalty, except loyalty toward the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. . . . All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always—do not forget this Winston—always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.

Nature is ultimately unchangeable, of course, and humans are not God. Totalitarianism will never win in the end—but it can win long enough to destroy a civilization. That is what is ultimately at stake in the fight we are in. We can see today the totalitarian impulse among powerful forces in our politics and culture. We can see it in the rise and imposition of double think, and we can see it in the increasing attempt to rewrite our history.

L. Arnn

Are Small Churches Back?

Some people have written off the current generation spiritually.

That is a mistake – for the church and for the millennials.

There’s growing evidence that this new generation will bring the greatest opportunity for small church ministry in 2,000 years.

Why? Because, as the first generation with a majority born and raised outside traditional marriage, genuine relationships and intimate worship – what small churches do best – will matter more to them than it did to their parents.

But this opportunity comes with one, big condition.

Millennials won’t give up quality to gain intimacy. And they shouldn’t have to.

Millennials won’t give up quality to gain intimacy. And they shouldn’t have to.

Millennials are discovering they have the same needs people have always had. Needs that include a desire to worship something or someone bigger than themselves, and to do so with others who have similar feelings.

In other words, church.

They’re Checking Us Out – What Will They Find?

Millenials will not be drawn to the kinds of churches their parents built. They won’t want a big Sunday morning stage show as much as they’ll want genuine intimacy and relationships.

Because of this need, millennials are starting to take a peek at what small churches have to offer. But they’re used to a high-quality experience in everything and they won’t settle for less.

Thankfully, that’s not as intimidating as it sounds.

Quality = Health

Small church doesn’t mean cheap, shoddy, lazy or low-quality. At least it shouldn’t.

But what millennials mean by quality is different than what their parents meant.

What millennials mean by quality is different than what their parents meant.

Too often, for Boomers, quality has meant excess. Glitz. Over-the-top. Bling. What the New Testament calls adornment.

(Interesting, isn’t it, that a lot of ministries which properly reject the sin of immodesty have no problem with the flip-side sin of adornment? Some even revel in it as evidence of God’s blessing.)

Quality for a small church can be summed up in one word.

Health.

It starts by getting the basics right.

  • Real-world Bible teaching
  • Genuine relationships
  • Practical ministry opportunities
  • Clean, safe childcare

The good news is, your church doesn’t have to be big to do any of that. And even if one or two aren’t at the level you’d like, most people are okay with it as long as there’s high quality in the other areas. They may even step in and help where the church is weak.

K. Vaters

Rend Your Heart

The prophet Joel functioned as a spiritual watchman over Judah. In Joel 2:12–19, he pleaded with the nation to turn to the Lord in genuine repentance as the only way to avoid the devastating destruction of the coming “day of the Lord” (Joel 1:15). The prophet’s call began like so: “‘Even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’ Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity” (Joel 2:12–13).

The word for “rend” in the original Hebrew means “to split, tear to pieces, rip, bust, separate abruptly or with violence.” To rend one’s garment was an ancient custom that signaled intense grief, repentance, or holy zeal.

When King David received the devastating, but exaggerated, news that Absalom had struck down all of David’s remaining sons, he rose, tore his clothes, and then lay down on the ground (2 Samuel 13:31; see also 2 Samuel 1:11). The Old Testament records Reuben, Jacob, Joshua, Caleb, Jephthah, Tamar, Ahab, Hezekiah, and others rending their garments in gestures of mourning and penitence (Genesis 37:29, 34; Joshua 7:6; Numbers 14:6; Judges 11:35; 2 Samuel 13:19; 1 Kings 21:27Isaiah 37:1).

In the New Testament, the high priest tore his garment while accusing Jesus of blasphemy (Matthew 26:65). Paul and Barnabas tore their clothes in anguish when they realized the people of Lystra were preparing to honor them as deities (Acts 14:14–15).

More than rent clothing, God wants rent hearts. To “rend your heart” in repentance is to acknowledge your brokenness and need for God’s forgiveness and restoration. As we rend our hearts, we discover that “the LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed” (Psalm 34:18, NLT). When we’ve strayed from God, the sacrifice He desires is “a broken spirit,” for He “will not reject a broken and repentant heart” (Psalm 51:17, NLT). We pave the way for healing, wholeness, and a restored relationship with God when we rend our hearts before Him (Psalm 147:3; Isaiah 61:1).

In Joel’s day, the nation of Judah was guilty of putting on false displays of repentance. The people performed rituals of tearing their clothing without experiencing true, heart-crushing remorse for their sin, which would lead to a change in behavior and genuine devotion to God. Only a complete rending of the heart would turn the nation back to receive the compassionate, gracious, merciful, and steadfast love of the Lord.

Instead of saying “rend your heart,” the prophet Jeremiah applied the cutting analogy of circumcision to call God’s people to repentance: “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, circumcise your hearts, you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire because of the evil you have done” (Jeremiah 4:4).

The idiom rend your heart expresses internal spiritual brokenness, which is vastly more important than any empty, hypocritical act of ripping apart one’s clothing. Rituals of repentance mean nothing if the heart is unchanged. External performances are not enough. For this reason, Jesus taught in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Being poor in spirit means recognizing one’s broken spiritual state. We rend our hearts when we admit that we are utterly bankrupt and destitute before God. Without His forgiveness, cleansing, and restoration, we are undone.

Rending our hearts in repentance means wholehearted surrender to God: “Pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord,” says Lamentations 2:19. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,” cried David after acknowledging his sin to the Lord (Psalm 51:10, ESV). “Woe is me, for I am undone!” confessed Isaiah upon seeing the Lord lifted high upon His throne. “I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5, NKJV).

When we rend our hearts before the Lord, God promises to forgive, cleanse, and restore us: “For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home. . . . I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. . . . You will be my people, and I will be your God. I will cleanse you of your filthy behavior” (Ezekiel 36:24–29, NLT).

The World Is Afraid and the Church Isn’t Helping

Since the beginning of creation, fear and hope have been parts of our psyche. But even as we are made in the image of God, fear and hope do not come from God in the sense that He has these traits too. For He neither fears, nor hopes, because He knows all things, is beyond time, and is in control of all things.

So where does our fear and our hope come from?

The Lies that Started It All

When Satan tempted Eve in the garden, lies led mankind into disobeying God, resulting in the fall.

Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit from the trees in the garden. But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, ‘You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die.’”

“No! You will certainly not die,” the serpent said to the woman. “In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:1-5).

Eve, in that moment, had both fear and hope, but fear and hope because of lies. She was afraid touching the tree would kill her, which wasn’t true, and which God never said. It was her own lie to herself. And she was hopeful eating the fruit would make her like God, which wasn’t true in the way she expected either—a lie Satan gave her.

Fear and hope based on lies lead us to do things contrary to God’s commands.

Avoidance of Fear and False Hope

At the end of 2020, Lifeway Research asked U.S. adults which feeling they sought to avoid the most: fear, shame, or guilt. Four in 10 U.S. adults (41%) said fear, the clear winner of the three options. Understandably, the global pandemic had something to do with these responses because the same study in 2016 showed only 30% of Americans saying they wanted to avoid fear, with shame being the winner at 38%.

Fear is a universal emotion that isn’t always a negative trait to have. Fear based on truth prevents us from harming ourselves, like an appropriate fear of fire or water that informs us to be careful. But when we see that the Bible’s most frequent command is to not be afraid, we must ask ourselves why do we fear and what is it we’re truly afraid of?

From the beginning of creation, we see that the times we are inappropriately afraid are times when we start believing lies. The lies that say we are sufficient. That God is unapproachable. That we can control our destiny. That suffering is to be avoided at all costs. That God is not all-powerful. That death is not a reality. That our world is not broken and not temporary. That fame and fortune will make us happy. And the list goes on. These are the subtle lies that cause us to fear. These are also the subtle lies that cause us to hope in the wrong things.

In the same Lifeway Research study, when asked, “What has given you hope during the adversity you have seen during 2020?” selecting all that applies, 40% said kindness people have shown, 38% said relationships, 36% said my religious faith, 33% said my finances are stable, and 19% said the knowledge of experts and scientist.

We can have hope in many things, but hope that sustains and that comes through is one that is based on solid truth. Although many found hope in kindness and relationships, finances and knowledge, and even faith, sadly, these things come and go, ebb and flow, like the wind and shifting shadows. Even faith is unstable when grounded in the wrong things. Hope in things that aren’t consistent is temporary hope at best and false hope at worst.

Along with the subtle lies that come into our minds, our culture tends to consume the lies put out by media, marketers, conspiracy theorists, and just people who simply have nothing better to do than put forth lies into the world. And because information moves so fast, fact-checking is harder than ever because so many sources will pick up false information knowingly, or unknowingly, and it will spread like wildfire, causing more fear in the world. What are Christians to do?

Treasuring and Seeking Truth

Our culture tells us truth is relative and absolute truth is an absurd idea—it can’t be found. Of course, the dilemma for relativists is they must concede that their statements cannot be true as well, although many people don’t or won’t point that out. People outside the church and now inside the church no longer value treasuring and seeking truth. Why? Partly because it takes time and effort, it takes research and study, it’s not convenient, and perhaps, many of us are just too lazy to do the work or we simply enjoy the lies.

In this world, there are many things we will not know with 100% certainty this side of heaven, and some truths may be gray areas or nuanced. But there are definitely other things we can know and be clear about. Truth is not as difficult to find as we expect, if we seek it with our hearts and minds.

In our postmodern world, it may seem too evident to some, but clearly pastors and leaders must teach church members to value and seek out truth. We can no longer assume honesty and truth-seeking are values on everyone’s list. It’s too easy to cheat on our taxes. It’s too easy to claim unemployment when we have a side cash business that’s lucrative. It’s too easy to say “little white lies” and repeat accusations that we haven’t found evidence for, especially on social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook.

In pursuit of truth, let’s be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19) and remind our church of these things. What happens when we do so? We stop believing and spreading the lies this world tells us, that Satan tells us, that we tell ourselves. And we start believing the truths of what the Bible and God tell us. And in doing so, we avoid the fear we desperately want to steer clear of. That’s how we can find true hope in the solid rock of Christ and the promises of His Word. Teaching the value of truth and honesty is more important today than ever.

“Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8). And in doing so, fear will subside, and true hope will strengthen our people.

Y. Bonesteele

Why Is No One Reporting This?

A Baptist pastor was shot dead in Chin state in Myanmar/Burma on 18 September amid continued attacks by the Myanmar military on civilians in the state.

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Pastor Cung Biak Hum, 31, was shot by soldiers as he tried to help extinguish a blaze caused by artillery fire, which destroyed 19 homes in the Thantlang township. The Chin Human Rights Organization reported that soldiers proceeded to remove the pastor’s finger and steal his wedding ring.

In response to the killing, Tom Andrews, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar tweeted: “The murder of a Baptist minister and bombing of homes in Thantlang, Chin State are the latest examples of the living hell being delivered daily by junta forces against the people of Myanmar. The world needs to pay closer attention. More importantly, the world needs to act.”

On 1 February, the Myanmar army, known as the Tatmadaw, seized power in a coup. This sparked widespread national protests, marches and walk-outs which have been met with a heavy-handed and violent response from the army and police, involving water cannons, rubber bullets and live ammunition. Attacks on civilians, including the use of military airstrikes, have been widely documented in Chin, Kayah, Karen and Kachin states.

Benedict Rogers, CSW’s Senior Analyst on East Asia and author of three books on Myanmar, said: “CSW extends our deepest condolences to the family, friends and loved ones of Pastor Cung Biak Hum, who was killed as his community and many others like it continue to suffer violence and grave human rights violations at the hands of the Myanmar army.

“We echo calls for increased international action, and reiterate the urgent need for a global arms embargo on the country as a means of pressuring the military regime to end its horrific treatment of the people of Myanmar.”

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