The Pendulum Swings…Both Ways


I suppose most have heard the news of the day regarding religion from these stories:

So, what’s going on? The first article states:

“Immigration is playing a key role in shifting the religious balance in the United States, said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. It’s not that the United States will become increasingly less Protestant; it’s that the United States will become increasingly less white, and the big pattern there is among Latinos,” Lugo said. “The vast majority of immigrants to the US — over 70 percent — are Christian,” Lugo said.”But while native-born Protestants outnumber Catholics by two to one, among immigrants, Catholics outnumber Protestants by the same ratio,” he said.”

The first article goes on to say:

Around one-third of the survey respondents who said they were raised Catholic no longer describe themselves as Catholic.

But Catholics still make up around 25 percent of the US adult population of 225 million, thanks largely to the high number of Catholics among immigrants, mainly from Latin America, the study showed.

Let’s see what article two says:

The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, a massive 45-question survey conducted of 35,000 American adults 18 and older, revealed evangelical Protestants outnumber Catholics by 26.3 percent of the population (66 million) to 24 percent (54 million).

Why is it “us” against “them”?  There is one group of Catholic Churches. Protestants are everything from Anglican to “snake-handling” Free Will Baptist! Of course we’re out numbered!

While one in three Americans are raised Roman Catholic, one in four adults describe themselves as such, a loss of 10 percent despite the huge numbers of Hispanic Catholic immigrants swelling American churches, survey researchers said.

We must become better teachers/catechists, if we are to pass the faith on to our children!

Those who leave either drop out of church entirely or join Pentecostal or evangelical Protestant churches, Pew Forum director Luis Lugo said.

One out of every 10 evangelicals is a former Catholic, he said. Hispanic Catholics are leaving at higher rates; 20 percent of them end up in evangelical or Pentecostal churches.

I wonder why this might be (besides bad catechises)?

“It’s a desire for a closer experience of God,” he said. “It’s not so much disenchantment with the teachings of the Catholic Church but the pull of what they see in Pentecostalism.”

That says a lot, doesn’t it? Pentecostalism, emotionalism, expression, individualism.

So….what’s your take on this?

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Lenten Reflection Week 4: Matthew 27:46


And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

This fourth saying of Christ from the cross is interesting in many ways. Two of which we will examine and reflect on for this fourth week of Lenten reflections.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is of course also found in Psalm 22. In fact several verses of this Psalm are quoted or alluded to in the accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion.

In an attempt to understand the depth of scripture, first I’d like to challenge the conventional interpretation , not doing away with it of course ( for that will be part of our reflection for the week) but attempting to understand the tangible with the intangible.

When Jesus cries out, My God, My God why have you forsaken me, why might/would He say this aloud? Who were the bystanders? Think about this for a second; was it not the “religious” leaders of the Sanhedrin (a mix of Pharisees and Sadducee’s), the ones who had just condemned Jesus a few hours before and turned Him over to the Roman authorities? These folk knew their scripture, maybe they didn’t know how to interpret it, but they certainly knew it. The common people who followed Jesus to Golgotha, Mary, John and a few other women, they probably knew their scripture, much more so than the Roman soldiers that were there.

When Jesus cries out the first line of this Psalm, maybe, just maybe He was calling out to these “religious” leaders one last time to repent. Upon hearing this, their minds race to recall the words and content of this Psalm. When they realize the similarities of it and what is taking place, they have a choice to make; to repent of their sin or be in denial of their sin. “This one is calling for Elijah.” This may have been their attempt to cover up what Jesus had just said. Anyone who may have been pondering the Psalm, might have heard this comment and thought to him/herself, “Oh I must have misunderstood what Jesus had said.”

My point in all this? Even from the cross, Jesus gives the opportunity for repentance. From the cross He prayed for the forgiveness of His persecutors, He promised salvation to a God-fearing penitent. He showed mercy and compassion toward His mother and placed His faith in John to care for her. And one last time He calls for repentance.

Next, I’m sure we’ve all heard the sermon, homily and/or the Sunday school lesson about how this is the moment that all sin – past, present and future –  was placed upon Christ. Thus the Father , who isn’t even able to look upon sin, has to turn away from His Son. Jesus, knowing this cries out, for His Father has never done such before.

So in this fourth week of Lenten reflections, let us think of how our sin separates us from God. For if God had to turn away from  “His only begotten Son” who “did not know sin” was “made to be sin,”  what must He do to us who are “still sinners” ? Let us also reflect on His call to repentance. Jesus knows what kind of people we are and He loves us enough to grant us salvation. But our salvation journey begins with a first step and that first step is repentance.

Oh God, create a clean heart for me; renew in me a steadfast spirit. Do not drive me from Your presence, nor take from me Your Holy Spirit. Restore my joy in Your salvation; sustain in me a willing spirit.   Psalm 51: 12-14

Amen.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons Fastest-Growing ‘Churches’ in U.S.


This article was written by Lillian Kwon for the Christian Post:

The two fastest-growing church bodies in the United States and Canada, according to a newly published report, are ones whose beliefs are known to conflict with traditional Christian teaching. 

Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, regarded by many Christians as cults, reported the largest membership increases in a year, according to the National Council of Churches’ 2008 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches.

Although Jehovah’s Witnesses currently rank 25th in size with over 1.06 million members, they reported a 2.25 percent increase in membership since the publication of the 2007 Yearbook. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – also known as the Mormon church – grew 1.56 percent and is listed by the NCC as the fourth largest “church.”

Notably, however, both Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormon church are not accepted within many Christian circles as part of the larger Body of Christ over a number of controversial beliefs that the two religions hold. Identification of the former religion as Christian, among other controversies, is debated largely due to their rejection of the Trinity, which most Christians regard as a fundamental doctrine. Latter-day Saints, meanwhile, are often criticized for their belief in “divine” books of scripture, aside from the Bible, including the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.

Mormonism was formally listed under “cults and sects” by the Southern Baptist Convention – the largest Protestant denomination in the nation – but was more recently categorized among “newly developed religions” on the North American Mission Board apologetics page.

Other bodies in the newly published top 25 largest churches list that reported membership increases include The Catholic Church with a 0.87 percent increase; the Southern Baptist Convention with a 0.22 percent increase; the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church with a 0.21 percent rise; and the Assemblies of God with a 0.19 percent growth.

The greatest losses in membership were reported by The Episcopal Church, which dropped 4.15 percent in members, and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which decreased by 2.36 percent. Both denominations are currently wracked by theological differences and the issue of homosexuality.

American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America also experienced large losses in membership, dropping 1.82 percent and 1.58 percent, respectively.

“Some will wish to argue that the slowing growth rate is evidence of an increasing secularization of American postmodern society,” said the Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner, editor of the Yearbook. “While such an explanation will satisfy some, caution in drawing such a conclusion is warranted.”

Lindner also observed that churches are feeling the impact of the lifestyles of Millenials – people in their 20s and 30s – who attend church but resist becoming members.

The United Methodist Church saw a 0.99 percent decrease but the mainline group remains the third largest church body with nearly 8 million members.

Only three of the top 10 largest churches are mainline Protestant churches; three of the top 25 are Pentecostal churches; and six of the top 15 are historic African American churches.

Largest 25 Churches (ranked by membership)

1. The Catholic Church – 67,515,016
2. Southern Baptist Convention – 16,306,246
3. The United Methodist Church – 7,995,456
4. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – 5,779,316
5. The Church of God in Christ – 5,499,875
6. National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc. – 5,000,000
7. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – 4,774,203
8. National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. – 3,500,000
9. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) – 3,025,740
10. Assemblies of God – 2,836,174
11. African Methodist Episcopal Church – 2,500,000
12. National Missionary Baptist Convention of America – 2,500,000
13. Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. – 2,500,000
14. The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) – 2,417,997
15. Episcopal Church – 2,154,572
16. Churches of Christ – 1,639,495
17. Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America – 1,500,000
18. Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc. – 1,500,000
19. The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church – 1,443,405
20. American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. – 1,371,278
21. United Church of Christ – 1,218,541
22. Baptist Bible Fellowship International – 1,200,000
23. Christian Churches and Churches of Christ – 1,071,616
24. The Orthodox Church in America – 1,064,000
25. Jehovah’s Witnesses – 1,069,530

Lenten Reflection Week 3: John 19:26-27


When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

As we’ve seen the past two weeks, Jesus is extremely forgiving and merciful….and this week is no exception. So far we’ve heard, Father forgive them… and Today you will be with me in Paradise. Now, we hear His words to His mother, Mary and His beloved disciple, John. “Woman, behold, your son” and “Behold, your mother.”

What are we to learn from this passage? They are, after all, the words of Sacred Scripture. They were written for a reason. Why put this in his gospel narrative? It’s the same John the Evangelist, that writes, There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written(Jn. 21: 25). What made this important enough to include and dismiss the others?

Of course, it starts with honoring your [father and] mother, one of the ten commandments. We also see the great mercy and compassion He has for others – as He’s suffering, again in extreme pain, He sees His mother, weeping her own tears of great pain (Lk. 2: 34-35) He did not want her to be alone and uncared for. So He gives her to the care of His disciple, John. Why would Jesus give His mother to one of His disciples? It was Jewish custom for family to care for family. Jesus surely brought about change as to religious customs, but didn’t try to implement change so much on the social or cultural ones.

I’ve heard said the reason was that His “brothers” (not holding to the teachings of the early Church Fathers of Mary’s perpetual virginity…even Luther, Calvin and Zwingli taught this) were not believers [in Christ] yet; but wouldn’t that change after His ressurection, wouldn’t He then return her to His family? No, Mary moved to Ephesus with John. I’m sorry…I’ve digressed. This is a Lenten Reflection. If you would like to know more about this teaching check out this and this

Let’s make this practical. We see Jesus’ concern for His mother and her well being in a physical sense and we see Jesus even place His “faith” in John to be able to accomplish this. Not unlike God the Father, putting His “faith” in Mary at the Annuciation.

Since God is relational ,we being made in His image and likeness, are relational as well. We are also called to, “… love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:37-39). These aren’t just mere verses to memorize, or to glance over. It’s our responsibility to live them out! Jesus tells us in John 13:35, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” He’s not talking about lip service and no action here, He’s not talking about meeting two or three times a week telling each other, “I luv you“. The world can’t see that! They see us in their world – loving and caring for one another the way Christ loved and cared for others while He was here on this earth, and as He cares for us now; healing and restoring our soul.

So in this third week of Lent, let us put our love in action, as Paul reminds us in Titus 3:8 & 14, “This saying is trustworthy. I want you to insist on these points, that those who have believed in God be careful to devote themselves to good works; these are excellent and beneficial to others. But let our people, too, learn to devote themselves to good works to supply urgent needs, so that they may not be unproductive.

Openly loving and doing good for others in all the ways we can, is an opportunity for us to let “ [y]our light shine before others  that they may see [y]our good deeds and glorify [y]our heavenly Father. ”

Amen.

The Doctrine of Universal Salvation also known as Apokatastasis


I came across an article that references the Roman Catholic Church as teaching this doctrine. The article seemed very slanted in it’s presetation of the facts, particularly when quoting the Catechism and John Paul II documents even our Catholic prayers.

I called upon my former Pastor to explain this to me in layman’s terms. Here is his reply:

The bottom line is that according to Catholic teaching one may and indeed must hope for the salvation of all things (cf. Rom. 8:19ff.).  But that does not mean there can be salvation “against one’s will,” so to speak, nor against God’s will, either.  True, God wills (desires/wants) all to be saved (I Tim. 2:4—yet cf. I Tim. 1:3-11 for a balance).  But God has also created us with free will, and we can freely reject His love and gift of salvation.  Repentance & transformation will ever be pre-requisites for entry into the Kingdom (the 1st is our willingness to surrender, the 2nd is God’s power to heal).  But what if I reject God and His love?  God will not force Himself on me [love by definition cannot be forced, either in giving or in receiving]—and my state is that of one in hell—separated from Eternal Love.  

 A few years ago I wrote an essay “Is There Room In Heaven For Hitler?”  My conclusion was “Yes, but…”  I think it’s still in the archive section of “Pastor’s Corner” on the Our Savior web-site, Tim.  You might want to look at it. 

In the long run, we need not be concerned about anyone’s being in or heading toward hell other than ourselves.  To think that God somehow is compelled to welcome me, no matter what kind of person I am, is to tie the “hands” of God and make the sense of justice meaningless.  “Universal salvation” no matter what takes me off the hook for living the life of the Beatitudes or even the old Roman “cardinal” virtues of prudence, temperance, justice & courage.  In its own way, it is a version of Gal. 2:20-21—justification “through the law” here would become “justification, no matter what.”  Both would mean “Christ died for nothing.”  St. Paul was not happy with that conclusion, nor is the Church.

A New Forum


Check out an exciting new forum here.

Thanks Amber!

Public Policy Alert for Knights of Columbus in the U.S.


Congress considers transforming AIDS relief into a massive abortion program financed by U.S. taxpayers

ACTION:

A Congressional committee is about to take America’s overseas AIDS relief program and use it as a vehicle for population control and abortion promotion.  Knights are urged to write to their members of Congress (especially if they’re members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee) to oppose this change.  See additional details at the bottom of this e-mail alert.

BACKGROUND

The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is due for reauthorization in 2008. In 2003 this bill was passed with bipartisan support and has a proven record of success in saving lives.

Last month, however, the House Foreign Affairs Committee proposed a reauthorization bill (the “Global HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Reauthorization Act of 2008”) which would drop the program’s exclusive focus on HIV/AIDS, and define HIV/AIDS and pregnancy as a “dual threat” to women’s lives.

The $50 billion authorized by the bill would then be used for both AIDS relief and what are termed “women’s reproductive health services” and “family planning services.” Although the bill’s definition of “reproductive health” does not mention “abortion,” abortion advocates have long interpreted “reproductive health” and “family planning” to include abortion.  Women seeking solely HIV/AIDS treatment could unexpectedly find themselves subjected to abortion counseling.

MEXICO CITY POLICY

Currently, the Mexico City Policy provides that no U.S. population assistance funds can be given to non-governmental organizations unless they certify that it will not perform or promote abortion as a method of family planning.  But the Mexico City Policy does not apply to AIDS relief legislation.  The insertion of “reproductive health” and “family planning” in AIDS relief legislation is a ploy to redirect AIDS relief money to international abortion organizations, and represents an end run around the Mexico City Policy restrictions.  Foreign abortion groups that cannot currently obtain US funding for family planning would be able to do so under this AIDS relief legislation. 

CATHOLIC RELIEF SERVICES AFFECTED

Catholic health institutions deliver approximately 25% of all HIV and AIDS care worldwide, and this bill places Catholic participation in jeopardy. Men, women and children seeking treatment for HIV and AIDS by Catholic providers in the world’s poorest regions could lose their access to treatment.

On February 6, Bishop Thomas Wenski, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, and Ken Hackett, President of Catholic Relief Services, wrote to the Foreign Affairs Committee, welcoming the major increase in funding for AIDS relief, but said that they were “deeply troubled” by inclusion of ‘reproductive health’ and ‘family planning’ services . . .” 

That is why the National Right to Life Committee and many other organizations are asking that the legislation be changed, and we ask that you do, too.

Click here for the full text of Bishop Wenski’s letter and a fact sheet.

 

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Contact members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee by phone, FAX or e-mail.  This is especially important if your own representative in Congress is a member of the committee.  Click here for a list of committee members.

Even if your representative is not on the committee, it will also be helpful to contact your representative and your U.S. senators by mail, Fax, e-mail or phone.  Call the U.S. Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121 or call your representative’s local office. 

MESSAGE:

“When you reauthorize the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), please do NOT link the AIDS/HIV program to family planning and abortion.  PEPFAR should keep its bipartisan focus on saving human lives.  Those suffering from HIV/AIDS should not be sacrificed to the cause of abortion and population control.”

WHEN:

Due to the death of Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, markup of this legislation has been postponed until February 25.  Immediate action will ensure that your voice is heard before the committee action is taken.