Churches are divided by doctrine – Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Lutheran, and Pentecostal – and by ethnicity – African, Korean, Chinese, Greek, and Ukrainian. We choose to segregate by age, by social status, and by politics. Enter a church, and chances are that a majority of members look alike, behave alike, think alike, and vote alike. Even when a church does enjoy diverse membership, young people may attend the contemporary hour while older members wait for the traditional service. We may claim to welcome everyone with open arms, but our actions speak louder than our words. The uncomfortable reality is that we embrace those who are like us and shun those who are different – singing songs from our favorite radio station, sharing polite conversations with friends, and frowning upon dissenting opinions. By taking the path of least resistance, we have splintered Christ’s church.
In his Foundation series, Isaac Asimov introduces the idea of a mentalic – a person with unusual psychic abilities. In Forward the Foundation (Foundation Novels), he describes how mentalics discover their peers in society: “Stettin, I believe you said that on certain occasions you’ve ‘felt’ another mind like yours but haven’t been able to identify it.” “Yes,” answered Palver, “I’ve had flashes, but each time I was in a crowd. And, in my twenty-four years, I can remember feeling such a flash just four or five times.” “But Stettin,” said Seldon, his voice low with intensity, “each flash was, potentially, the mind of another person like you and Wanda – another mentalic…We must find other mentalics.” As mentalics studied their world, they realized they were different from most of those around them. Certain events and chance encounters triggered that awareness, and by meeting and working in concert with fellow mentalics, they had the potential to change the world.
When visiting the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, I was struck by a small, plain plaque hanging on an otherwise bare wall. On it were written these words: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” They were all the more powerful because of the poverty and ordinariness of the surroundings. God, the magnificent creative genius behind our universe, chose to visit our insignificant planet as a frail human being.
In Samson Occom and the Christian Indians of New England, we read that, in the 18th century, Eleazar Wheelock secured a royal charter “for the education & instruction of Youth of the Indian Tribes in this Land in reading wrighting and all parts of Learning which shall appear necessary and expedient for civilizing and christianizing Children of Pagans as well as in all liberal Arts and Sciences; and also of English Youth & any others.” A small fortune was raised from benefactors across Britain who sought to offer the benefits of education to Native Americans. Unfortunately, Wheelock had duped these generous donors, and those working on his behalf, and used their money to create Dartmouth College – which educated primarily English students. Did Wheelock’s deception undermine the blessing of those who gave?
How can we tell a sheep from a wolf in sheep’s clothing? On the outside, they appear the same – even though, on the inside, they are very different. That can spell danger – especially when you are a sheep. Over time, despite its deception, a wolf, even when dressed in sheep’s clothing, can’t help but behave like a wolf; its actions give it away. This is why Jesus told his followers to observe carefully how others act: We can “identify people by their actions.” Not all are as they seem.
Whereas the Christian faith and the world of science provide complementary views of our existence, too many insist on driving a wedge between them – as if believing in mainstream science is anti-Christian or following Christ is unscientific. Part of the reason for the supposed incompatibility of faith and science is that extremist thinkers – atheists and Christians alike – misunderstand, or deliberately mischaracterize, those with whom they disagree. Dishonesty, intended or otherwise, must be exposed and addressed, for it engenders distrust and stifles progress.
Money dominates our lives: The more we have, the more it consumes our thoughts. While money in itself is not evil, we are warned about the love of money, for it’s “the root of all kinds of evil” and can cause some to “wander from the true faith.” The world looks at the church’s wealth, considers the plight of countless millions who struggle to sleep each night because of intense hunger or debilitating sickness, and concludes that Christians are not serious about their faith. Sadly, they’re right. The Bible provides us with important guidelines regarding wealth, giving, and our attitude to money; too often, we push them aside.
Almost 2,000 years ago, an obscure Jewish fisherman penned a prediction: “I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, ‘What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.’” The world’s media is currently fixated on the ill-advised prediction of Harold Camping that today is God’s judgment day. Atheist groups, quite understandably, have declared “Scoff at Christians” Day, an ironic fulfillment of the fisherman’s prediction. The folly of one man, who chose to ignore the Bible’s clear teaching, is being used by millions around the world as an excuse to ridicule the Christian faith.
Perhaps the most important task given to the apostle Paul was to “make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God.” What is this mystery? Both Gentiles and Jews share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children, are part of the same body, and enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus. And what was the administration? Literally, the word means house-order, and Paul went to great lengths to explain how the local church is to function.
Since the time of Jesus’ walk on earth, well over 200 dates have been proposed for the end of the world. This is about one year in every ten. In the 20th century alone, Jehovah’s Witnesses confidently predicted the end of the world on ten separate occasions – and had to endure public ridicule when nothing happened. Sometimes, the predictions are made by obscure fringe groups, but, in recent years, several well-known TV evangelists have fallen into the same trap. I can remember hearing a youth leader, almost 40 years ago, predict confidently that we would never see another Christmas. Many of us have probably heard unwise predictions made from the pulpit of a local church.