All Around Us

"Trendy Sermons, Vacant Pews"

A reader from Lynden, Washington sends in an interesting book review found in the Wall Street Journal, January 3, 1997. The author reviews a book called: The Empty Church: The Suicide of Liberal Christianity by Thomas C. Reeves. 

The author of the book and its reviewer seem to agree concerning the problem of the churches today. It is of interest that a paper such as the Wall Street Journal and its reviewer should make the kind of comments found in the article. There is not only a recognition of the sad state of the churches today, but also a recognition of the problem and its solution. The review states in part:

Mr. Reeves lays out the facts with clarity and obvious passion. Since the 196Os and '7Os, the mainline denominations have bled between a fifth and a third of their congregations. The liberals in charge of the denominational bureaucracies think they know why. In our "post-Christian" era, they maintain, old-fashioned Christianity repels potential churchgoers. The solution is to follow the descending path of modern culture to whatever depths it leads. As one Episcopal priest explains: "Every time that we ordain someone who is not a heterosexual white male, we gain hundreds of new members." 

Except that it doesn't work that way. The more heterodox - multicultural, multi-doctrinal - the churches become, the more congregants they lose, and yet they keep at it....

. . . As early as 1982, at a United Methodist Women conference, the Greek earth goddess Gaia was called upon for a blessing. A 199.3 conference funded by the Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran and American Baptist churches "featured a veneration of 'Sophia, Creator God' . . . and rites from other religions such as the American Indian tobacco ritual."

. . . What ordinary churchgoers perceive is that their leaders have ceased to accept the authority of Scripture. "Biblical criticism" - the deconstruction of holy texts for the purpose of discrediting their status as revealed truth - has been in vogue among mainline clergy for decades and in recent years has been joined by a campaign to cleanse the Gospels and' liturgies of anything that might offend a professor of multicultural studies.

Alas, the Bible as it comes to us from God and His prophets is a profoundly strange book. Once it and other holy documents have been stripped of their "necessary offense," as the theologian Bernard M.G. Reardon has put it, any religion based upon those texts is reduced to a mere adjunct of the surrounding culture rather than a challenge to it. The typical congregant at a liberal church or temple finds it increasingly hard to see why he should spend his Sunday morning or Friday night in a place where secular views are simply echoed.

"Weigh the benefits," writes Mr. Reeves: "Sunday with the family at the beach or in church listening to a sermon on AIDS; working for overtime wages or enduring pious generalities about 'dialoguing,' 'inclusiveness,' and 'sharing and caring'; studying for exams or hearing that the consolations and promise of the Bible are not 'really' or 'literally' true." As he admirably summarizes the problem, "Liberal Protestantism . . . has succeeded in making itself dispensable."

. . . (A)n orthodox awakening in the pews would have to get past those mainline leaders who, as Mr. Reeves knows, suffer from a "lack of commitment to the authentic faith." In the meantime, serious Christians can take refuge in serious churches, as they already do, swelling the country's nondenominational, evangelical Protestant groupings....

One can only exclaim, "From the mouth of the Wall Street Journal!!!" If only some of the "religious" periodicals of our day were as forthright!

Madalyn Murray O'Hair

Most have heard of the woman in the title above. She is the country's best-known atheist. An atheist who denies the existence of God would consequently also have no standard of morality except what he invents for himself. One is reminded of that when reading the following report which appeared in Christianity Today, February 3, 1997:

Two atheist organizations, formerly controlled by Madalyn Murray O'Hair, have reported in Internal Revenue Service documents that $627,500 disappeared about the same time O'Hair, her son Jon Garth Murray, and daughter Robin Murray-O' Hair vanished in August 1995. 

Some speculate that the trio may be hiding in New Zealand....

O' Hair, 78, became the nation's best-known atheist in 1962 by filing a lawsuit that led to the U.S. Supreme Court's prohibition on public-school prayer. She filed suit in behalf of her then 16-year old son Bill Murray, now a Christian evangelist. He filed a "request to find" order after his mother's disappearance. Police say they have no evidence of foul play. In January, Bill Murray filed a petition to become guardian of the estates of his mother, brother, and sister. United Secularists of America, reports that $612,000 in missing assets is "believed to be in the possession of Jon Murray, former secretary." American Atheists reported that he is suspected of taking $15,500.

The Same Roman Catholic Church

I have recently received in the mail some information sent by a Roman Catholic organization. Though the Roman Catholic Church has lately been portrayed as a changed church which recognizes that there is salvation outside of its walls, this material clearly shows otherwise. There is, according to this article, no salvation possible outside of the Roman Catholic church. In a "Dogma of Faith" the following is emphasized:

"There is only one universal Church of the faithful, outside of which no one at all can be saved." (Pope 1nnocent III, Fourth Lateran Council, 1215). 

. . . The Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes, and teaches, that none of those who are not within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but Jews, heretics and schismatic, can ever be partakers of eternal life, but are to go into the eternal fire 'prepared for the devil, and his angels' (Mt. 25:41), unless before the close of their lives they shall have entered into that Church; also that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is such that the Church's sacraments avail only to those abiding in that Church, and that fasts, almsdeeds, and other works of piety which play their part in the Christian combat are in her alone productive of eternal rewards; moreover, that no one, no matter what alms he may have given, not even if he were to shed

his blood for Christ's sake, can be saved unless he abide in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church." (Mansi, Concilia, xxxi, 1739; Pope Eugene IV, in the bull, Cantate domino, 1441). 

The implications of these pronouncements, taken together, are as follows:

1. All . . . of these statements are ex cathedra definitions of the Church and of the Pontiffs who made them. ("Ex cathedra") means that these are infallible teachings of the Church which all persons must believe in order to be saved. These teachings are not subject to change as the popes in making these declarations of faith were guided by the Holy Ghost, Who is unchangeable.

. ..4. Such a dogmatic statement is not to be colored, or reduced, or altered, by reference to the Sacred Scriptures. On the contrary, it is in terms of such a statement that all the Scriptures are to be read and understood.

. ..7. This dogma rules out the possibility of simple invincible ignorance concerning the matter of salvation; those who die in ignorance of the Church as the only course of salvation grace must be adjudged to have been culpably so. In a word, they did not know because they did not want to know.

Quoted below are three worthy statements in support of this Dogma of Faith:

"It is a sin to believe that, there is salvation outside the Catholic Church." - Venerable Pope Pius IX.

"There is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. Anyone who resists this truth perishes." - St. Louis Maria de Montfort.

"We must believe that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church; hence they who are out of our Church or they who are separated from it, cannot be saved." - St. Alphonsus Maria Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the church.

Who can claim truly that the Roman Catholic church has changed? And if this is its official position, what common ground can be "found to cooperate with them?

What Did the Pope Say?

In our last article we quoted what was claimed to be a statement of the Pope concerning evolution. It now appears that he did not quite say what the press quoted him as saying. In an article by religion editor Cal Thomas, that writer points out that he "was critical of the Pope's 'remarks' and suggested that he was moving in the direction of a materialistic worldview that is at the heart of communism . . . . " 

Now he points out that "the problem was that the initial English translation of the Pope's remarks was incorrect." 

Thomas goes on to state:

The correct translation is a long way, indeed, from U.S. News & World Report's statement that "the Pope declared that evolution is 'more than just a theory,"' and said, "new knowledge leads us to recognize that the theory of evolution is more than a hypothesis." 

. . . While secularists may have been initially thrilled by the Pope's apparent move toward the thinking of the "kingdom of this world," they and the Pope are back to where they started. John Paul II seemed to be saying that science can explain how some things came to be, again, sometimes having to correct itself. But science cannot explain who made what is and, in most cases, cannot explain how it came to be. As God said to Job, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the universe?"

It is the ultimate question, and the Pope did not budge from the source of the ultimate answer. It was the translator, not the Pope, who proved fallible on this one....

So it appears that the Pope did not give the ringing endorsement of evolution as presented in the world's press - but, then, neither did he rule out the possibility of evolution.