Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Good without God

On my way home the other day, I happened by an advertisement by Humanist Canada, it read:

You can be good without God.

It was an interesting statement, seemingly meant to espouse the atheist philosophy, much like the controversial "There's probably no God" advertisements. I can only imagine that such advertisements seek to negate the need for God because, well, an atheist can be just as good as a Christian can. Where then does God factor into that?

And it's true, an atheist can be as "good" as a Christian can. So can a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Shintoist, and a Jew. Most major religions lay claim to moral codes, and these moral codes usually hold similar values at heart - for instance, the condemnation of murder. An atheist who upholds a similar moral code and works fervently to act upon it, can be just as "good" as any religious individual. They can aspire to be loving, kind, and forgiving. They may make donations to the poor, solve conflicts with patience, and treat others as they would be treated.

Yet even so, even the best of us are partial to anger, selfishness, pride, lust... In other words, even though we try to be "good", we're never perfect.

ROMANS 3 (NLT)

23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.

But in focusing on the pursuit of righteousness, one is missing the point. Faith in God is not about being good, but about seeking truth. Indeed, a desire to improve ourselves may come about as a byproduct of our faith, but that faith is rooted in something deeper. Christians do not believe in God because they think it will make them a better person (though it may, in the process, do so) but because they believe that God exists, that he is real, and that the Bible is true.

Their own attempts to be good or inadequacy at achieving better results than their atheist neighbour does not make God less relevant. In fact, it makes God more relevant. Because in acknowledgement that we cannot achieve "goodness" beyond that which any other man can achieve (which is not all that "good" at all) on our own, we recognize our own weakness and need for salvation. Christianity offers this salvation in the form of Christ Jesus, who sacrificed his life that we might be reconciled with God. He claims more than just a path to "goodness" but a way back to God, life eternal, and truth.

GALATIANS 3 (NLT)

3 How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?

JOHN 14 (ESV)

6Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Indeed, Romans 3, which I cited above, continues:

ROMANS 3 (NLT)

23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, 26 for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.

I'm reminded of a song I first heard many years ago (Never Gonna Be as Big as Jesus by Audio Adrenaline), which went on to say:

I could be about as good
Good as any human could
But that won't get me by


Get your own playlist at snapdrive.net!

"You can be good without God." Is this true? To a certain perspective it is. By our own efforts, we can be no better than any other human being. But we trust in God because we believe his message to be true, and our faith then leads us toward salvation and transformation through Christ Jesus our saviour. It is He who makes us truly "good", but more importantly sets our sights beyond this life and toward eternity.

EPHESIANS 3 (NLT)

20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The fall of orthodoxy

In Quebec, as throughout Europe, churches are falling silent - relics of a more pious time. Few sermons are given from these pulpits, few prayers offered from these pews.

It might be quite beautiful, with its golden cross next to the steeple, its triumphal arches inside, its extraordinary Casavant organ presiding, but that hasn't stopped Notre-Dame-du-Perp├ętuel-Secours from steadily becoming abandoned. Barely 100 seats in its pews built for 1,000 are taken on Sundays, and that's on a good day.

...

The fire sale of Catholic churches in Quebec continues unabated; they are victims of a population that, more than elsewhere in Canada, has turned its back on organized religion.

[source]

Quebec has changed, Europe has changed, and the church has not kept pace. I recall a story, told by a minister at my own church, whereby he took his family on a vacation to Europe. On Sunday, they went to a beautiful, traditional church only to find nobody there - no pastor, no worshippers, nothing but empty halls. Dejected, he stepped up to the podium and preached to his own family. After all, God belonged there in that house.

What do I mean that the church has not kept pace? What I do not mean is that the church ought to bend its moral backbone to the liking of society. The gospel message of salvation, the Christian journey toward becoming more like God, and the attitude of giving glory to the Lord are not flexible. What I am referring to is tradition and ceremony.

Traditional churches are quiet and respectful places of worship. They hold fast to set and proper ways - choral music, stained glass windows, fancy priesthood. This is not bad nor wrong. Many people enjoy these things, and where there is a heart to participate in such worship, such worship is appropriate. Each individual has different needs, and if a traditional church can meet these needs - if a traditional church has a thriving congregation - then God is being glorified in that place.

Yet in many places, the fabric of society has fallen away from God. It is the role of the church to engage the people. We should not forget that though we perceive older churches with their grand and Gothic architecture as "traditional", at one time these churches were very much in tune with society. Artists such as Bach and Handel found great inspiration through these institutions of faith.

Today, classical music is not the music of the times. Suits and dresses are not the fashion of the day. If a change in style is what is needed to draw people back into churches, then perhaps the church needs to transform itself. It is the sharing of the gospel message that is of utmost import.

1 CORINTHIANS 9 (ESV)

19For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

For many of the older generation, it seems unconscionable to turn the dignified tradition of the church into a place of rock music, clapping, and dancing. While such people are entitled to worship the Lord in their own way, let us remember that it is not the form of worship that is of consequence, but the heart of worship. God never demanded that worship to be him be solemn and serious.

1 SAMUEL 10 (NIV)

5 "After that you will go to Gibeah of God, where there is a Philistine outpost. As you approach the town, you will meet a procession of prophets coming down from the high place with lyres, tambourines, flutes and harps being played before them, and they will be prophesying. 6 The Spirit of the LORD will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person.

2 SAMUEL 6 (NIV)

14 David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might, 15 while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

16 As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart.

20 When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, "How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!"

21 David said to Michal, "It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD's people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD. 22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor."

It is indeed distressing to see the House of the Lord vacant. The church must do what it can to engage today's people, to spread the gospel message of God's love and galvanize the people back into a personal relationship with Him - even if it means becoming more undignified than this.