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Believing, In the Church

This is a topic that I've been thinking about for a long time, and you could easily call it “believing while staying in the church,” or “how do you sometimes keep believing even while you're in the church?” And so, it will be a little bit of a ride for all of us, I think. The first thing I'd like to say is that this is not going to be an easy topic, so I would ask that you hang in there, both with me, and that you hang in there with the church.


And so hopefully that's the conclusion we come to by the end.


I've done some other work related to this topic and recently wrote a piece “What Happened to Hope?” In it I looked at the Pew and the Gallup data to show that the teachings of some of these things in universities has a cost. Teaching evolution and anti-God theories has a cost, and our young people are leaving their faith in significant numbers.


It was reported to me that the reasons include: relationship issues within the church, issues related to gender and sexuality, and conflict between science and religion experienced in higher education, even within church-operated schools.


Pew research shows that when members leave, they typically leave to nothing. Since then, I've found that there's actually a lot of research going on in the Christian community about the rising generation of "nones". Now, I don't mean N-U-N. But N-O-N-E, those who claim no religious affiliation whatsoever.

A lot of highly educated people leave. And they don’t just leave the Church, they leave Christ. They don’t say, you know what? I found out this thing about the church’s position, and I'm not really comfortable with that. So I think I'm going to go off and join another church, or I'm going to go off and create my own church, or I'm going to go off and be non-denominational or something. No, they leave everything.


In breaking down the reasons we've identified or why they're leaving, they seem to break down into two main categories or causes. One is they lack trust in church leadership. All of those, I mean, we're looking at whether it's church doctrine or the church's position on politics or gender or anything else.


They all indicate a lack of trust in church leadership. Some reason they've lost that level of trust. Second, they didn't have a relationship with Christ, or again, they would have gone to another church or done something else other than just becoming atheistic. And I think that one of the reasons when we look at that is that:

one, there's a real challenge,

but secondly is that we kind of, each of us as members of the church, we're taught to support the idea of what I call "the truth switch."

It's either all true or it's all false. And we grow up with this idea in the church that anything taught must be true. Anything we read in a church lesson manual or any sermon that's ever given from a pulpit, every comment made by a Sunday school teacher or someone representing the church, somehow that has to all be true or none of it's true. We can see the dilemma. Because somebody's inevitably going to say something that's not true.


And so what we're going to talk about here is that sometimes what we're exposed to, whether doctrinal or not, may sometimes not be true. And we must be careful that it doesn't just flip the switch. Now we're in the all-false category, and we're out the door. We need to understand that this is not a switch; it's a continuum and it's made up of people.

I recently wrote a discussion titled Satan's War with God. It focuses on the war Satan has been weighing since the beginning and how he uses his anti-Christ religion of evolution and naturalism to lead young people away. So, when these young people go off to university, even Christian universities, they are encouraged to adopt that new faith system. As we see from the data, this results in them leaving the church, leaving Christ, and leaving God.


If we admit it to ourselves, we've all had questions, whether they were counsel or direction from church leadership, COVID being the most recent, a lot of people are in a lot of turmoil over their church's behavior during COVID. They think their church should have taken a stand, one way or another.


And I'm not taking a position or a side here; I'm just recognizing that many of us have issues. Regarding policy changes, we may have a problem with the changes that come down from church leadership or our local clergy. We may have a problem with our leaders' beliefs concerning evolution or human origins or any number of other things. Some of us may be concerned with our church’s official political position or comments made by well-known clergy regarding candidates.


Or you can insert your own frustrations. We all have them, right? Everybody's got things that have, at one time or another, caused them to wonder what's going on. I want to suggest a way to approach these types of challenges.


When we look at it, there are really three sources, as I'm going to lump them in general form, three sources for truth. One is the gospel, and that can be described represented and encouraged to us through the Holy Spirit or through the scriptures. But the gospel is always true. 100% of the time, it's never wrong, and it's always going to be true.

The second source is then the church, whether that's church curriculum church publications, or even our local clergy’s sermons. The church, the organization of the church, obviously its purpose is to preach the gospel, to take the gospel to people, but it's still made up of people. They’re human. And so, it's mostly true because they try to rely on the spirit, but it's mostly true.


And then there are the members, the membership, the other people that we associate with, whether in classes or talks or just in casual discussions. And I say that that's sometimes true. Now, the reason this becomes important is that a lot of times when we're receiving information, we lump it all into this category, saying it's all gospel when it might be just somebody's opinion. This should inform how we react to things that are said. If it's the church, we've got to remember, okay, it's mostly true. Most of the time, it's going to be right. Most of the time, it's going to be true if it's from the church.

If it's from a member, well, sometimes they're right. Sometimes, they're not. But if it's from the gospel, it's always going to be true. This is probably the hardest statement I have made in this entire discussion, but I'm going to say that false teaching is a part of the church today, great or small.


Okay, just a fact. We must acknowledge this to move on and develop a healthy relationship with the church and an independent relationship with Christ. Our relationship with Christ is not dependent on the church.


Ideally, the church strengthens it, but in many cases, this may not be so. That's hard to say, and I'm sure it's hard to hear, but we can't move on towards solutions to the problem of why people are leaving the church if we don't acknowledge some of these situations and facts. I'm reminded of the story of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13.

 We all remember this story. The owner sowed good seed. He says that it was good seed, but while the seeds were still young and before they sprouted, the enemy snuck in at night and planted tares. The only hope for the wheat, since we can't take the wheat out of the tares without damaging it, is strong wheat.


It doesn't happen all the time in scripture, but in this parable, Christ himself interprets the parable. So, he gives this parable, and then he and the apostles, they go off, and the apostles come and say, can you tell us what that meant? You know, I can imagine. “We kind of got some of it, but what was that all about?” And so, here's how Jesus himself describes this event. They said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field. He answered the one who sows the good seed is the son of man.” So, Jesus Christ sows the good seed.


The field is the world. The good seed is the sons of the kingdom. So, the good seed is the membership, the members of his church, the believers, that he has planted. So, he's put it in their hearts to believe. The weeds are the sons of the evil one. And the enemy who sowed them is the devil.


“Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all lawbreakers and throw them into the fiery furnace.” So, we know a couple of things from this story. That one, he planted good seed.


The truth that he planted in people's hearts, the gospel was true. But while it was still young, while people were still trying to really grow in their faith, the enemy, Satan, crept in and planted these sons of evil in their midst. And they grow along with them.


They grow along with them. We may or not even recognize that we’re surrounded by weeds.


I'm going to give a quick lesson on human lifespan.


We often talk about how the average human lifespan has increased. In 1907, it was 45.6 years, which is measurable. So, just over a hundred years ago, the average lifespan was 45.6 years in the US.


In 1957, it was 66.4 years. And then in 2007, it was 75.5 years. That's an incredible increase in lifespan.

 But how many of you have done your family history? Do you find people in your genealogy who are older than 75.5 years? There are likely a lot of them. This was a dilemma for me as we were doing our genealogy. The average lifespan was supposedly 45 years. I have a lot of people who are 80 and 90.


And at first, you think, wow, I have really good genes. And then you realize, no, all of them. Seems like all of them are living to long lifespans.


Almost everybody is living to be 80 or 90. I have some hundred-year-olds. So I'm just saying it seems counter to the data.


So, the reason is infant mortality. In 1907, infant mortality was 9.99%. In 1957, it was 2.63%. In 2007, it was 0.68%. Almost all the increase in the average lifespan for humans in America is because babies aren't dying. Now, why does this matter? When we look at it, we can talk about the impact on those who survive.

 Back in 1907, a lot of babies were dying. It's pulling the average lifespan down. It's changing the demographics because all these babies are dying. As time has gone on, fewer babies have died, and more people are living to adulthood.


Those who survive are the dominant force. Those who survive in the church are going to be the dominant force. While it may be tempting at times because of some conflict or some challenge, you're having to feel like, you know what, I'm hitting the door.


The fact is, all you do then is leave the church to those who survive. So if we think we have issues and challenges now with doctrine and things that are being taught, what happens when those who actually do believe the scriptures and who do believe what they say leave? And all you're left with are those who are kind of the milk toast and don't really care what the scriptures say. It's important that we stay.


It's important that we remain and that we are the survivors because we have an effect. One of the key things we can do as we work in this survivor mode is to focus on fundamental beliefs. As far as it relates to fundamental belief for me, I begin a lot of my discussions with this review and say, before you listen to me, here's what I believe.


Now you can decide if I'm credible because if you don't agree with me on these, you'll probably not agree with me on anything else.

Christ is the eternal God. In Isaiah, we read,” have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary. His understanding is unsearchable.” And you can look at scripture after scripture, which says the same thing.


Christ is the redeemer of the world. This is one of my favorite scriptures in the entire Bible. The context is that John has been there teaching and talking to the people when he sees Jesus walking towards him.


“And he says, coming around, he said, behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” There is no greater testimony. A simple testimony. He is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.


And Christ is the creator of the universe. Scripture is full of references to Christ's role as creator.

“For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.” Exodus 20:11

“I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded.” Isaiah 45:12

“For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:” Colossians 1:16


”All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” John 1:3


Often when we focus on things we don't understand instead of those we do, we can feel lost and confused. Have you ever had that experience? Spend all your time studying and working and pondering and suffering over things that you don't know, and all you feel is lost and confused. Instead of returning to the fundamental beliefs and saying, do I know Christ is my redeemer? Do I know that he is my creator? Do I know that he has the authority and the right to save me? Sometimes, then, we can kind of get caught up in the practice of our religion instead of the core fundamental beliefs of our religion, and we become like the Israelites.

 You'll remember that when the Israelites were near Mount Sinai, they were then tormented by serpents, fiery serpents. Moses was given a solution. He was to create a brazen serpent and raise it on a pole, and all who looked at it would be saved. They would be healed. If you didn't, you died. But if you did, you were saved.


Well, that's a great opportunity for them to point to Christ because later in the New Testament, Christ says why that was the case. Just as the brazen serpent was lifted up on the staff, so will the Son of Man be. So, it was pointing them to Christ.


I think that's the part that's missing in the record, but it was surely part of Moses' dialogue with them. He was pointing them to Christ. But what happens to that brazen serpent? It is placed in the temple, and then, after the temple is destroyed, it's rescued, and King Hezekiah must destroy the brazen serpent.


Why does he have to destroy the brazen serpent? Because they began to worship it. They worshiped the doctrine or the symbol of their faith, and they worshiped the ordinance, worshiping the practice rather than the savior. So, when our practices cease to point us to Christ but instead become the focus of our faith, we're like the Jews with the brazen serpent.


Every practice, belief, behavior, or action we take should point to Christ. They should point us to the source of salvation. So, we ask ourselves, do you have a testimony of the church or anything other than Jesus Christ? Here are a couple of references.


In Matthew, “the gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations and then the end will come.” Our testimony should be in the gospel of Jesus Christ, not in any organization or any person or anyone, no matter how good, how great, or how positive that influence might be; our testimony is in Jesus Christ, and we are called to be a witness.


“You are my witnesses, saith the Lord, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me, there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I am the Lord, and beside me, there is no savior. Therefore, ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, that I am God.”


We are to be his witnesses. Shallow Christianity will not last in the coming generation, and it will not grow. So, cultural Christianity is fading.


The church in the 21st century must go big on truth or go home.


So, my first question is, are we willing to discard our pet beliefs or traditions that oppose or don't point us to Christ? We must ask that question individually. What I would recommend for each of you is just how I had my core fundamental doctrines. Do that for yourself.


What are my fundamental beliefs? What is at the core of the gospel for me? What is it that I know is true? We were discussing with somebody last night and we brought up the point of provenance. When buying a painting or anything or a piece of artwork, particularly if it's ancient or old, you want to know its provenance. How do I know it is what it says it is? Where does it come from? That's a reasonable question to ask ourselves about any of our doctrines or beliefs.


Where did it come from? What's its provenance? Is it reliable? Is it something I should base my salvation on? Can we separate our frustrations with the organization of the church and other members from our faith in Jesus Christ? I can promise you this: I know where I'm supposed to stay, and I'm here. A decision was made long ago. I'm staying.


I have made promises to Jesus Christ, not to any leader or member of the church. They can't deny me the blessings He has promised me. Only Heavenly Father can.


It's a difficult journey that we're on, but I'll tell you what we can do.


1.      We can help our classes and meetings be focused on Christ. Most of the time, I spend time in Sunday school, and many of you may have the same experience, but I don't say much. I really don't want to become a distraction, so I don't say much. But there are times when the Spirit says, “Now you need to defend,” whether it's defending God's word or defending His Son. I was in a class recently and the conversation we were discussing Isaiah, and the conversation turned to this whole idea of Deutero-Isaiah. The idea that there were multiple authors for the book of Isaiah. I listened for a while, and finally, I felt the prompting to say that Christ wasn't confused. He knew that it was one Isaiah.


You may not be aware, but supposedly, this break in authorship happens in Isaiah 39. But look in the New Testament. Christ quotes the prophet Isaiah on both sides of that break. It's like he knew that we were going to be confused. There is one author of the book of Isaiah, and that's what I said, and I explained why I believe that.


What was amazing, though, was not the fact that, okay, I stood up and I stood for what I think is true. It was the reaction of the other people in the classroom, because you saw a number of heads shake their heads, yes. You're not as alone as you think you are.


So, we need to help our classes and meetings focus on Christ. Talk to your local clergy and tell them that you want to hear more about Christ. In preparation for this, I talked to several leaders. And I said if one of your members in your congregation came to you and said, “We'd like to have more talks on Jesus Christ,” how would you react? All the leaders I talked to were positive. So, let's take them at their word. And if that's something you'd like to see in your congregation, by all means, go and tell them, “I'd like to have more talks about Jesus Christ.” Maybe Sunday school is a good place to talk about other things. But in worship service, I'd like to hear more about Jesus Christ. See what kind of reaction you get.


2.      Ensure that Christ is the focus of our personal worship and testimony. Regardless of what happens inside a church building, what happens in our home will have the greatest influence on our kids and grandkids. I grew up with a grandmother who loved the Savior, knew Him, and loved Him. As a result, I grew up loving the Savior because she introduced Him to me. So even when things got hard, it was never even a consideration that I'd leave Him.


Develop that relationship so that it's the same for you. Don't ever leave Him.


I want to end with my testimony that we can come closer to Jesus Christ within the church than we can anywhere else on the planet. But that's up to us. We can be just as disappointed within the church as we'll be anywhere else on this earth. That's up to us, too.


But I promise you that as we stay with the Savior and the church, we will have the faith-building and faith-promoting experiences we need to draw us closer to Him and to others around us. We need to be the survivors who stay.


We've made these promises to the Lord, and we need to keep them. So, I testify to you that there's value in staying, and I encourage you to do so. It is possible to believe in Christ while being in the church. Even if you don't believe that, some days and in some situations, believe in the church. Be one of the survivors, and strenghten those around you to cling to Christ and the hope that He brings.

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