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Huge UK Church Survey says Pews Emptying Because Christianity no Longer Preached
LifeSiteNews.com ^ | March 7, 2005 | Unattributed

Posted on 03/07/2005 8:32:45 PM PST by quidnunc

Public wants church’s to cease being ‘silent’ and ‘lukewarm’ in face of moral collapse

London – With Christian moral values and legal protections under assault on all sides, it is commonly said that the reason pews are emptying is that traditional religion is not relevant. A new survey of thousands of churchgoers in the UK says the opposite however, and indicates that the emptying of the churches has been caused mainly by preaching and pastoral care that has been emptied of moral or doctrinal Christian content. The survey addressed questions about why church attendance was falling so dramatically in the UK but growing elsewhere, even though two-thirds of the British population believes in God.

The results of the year-long survey of 14,000 UK residents by the interdenominational Ecumenical Research Committee has been called ‘surprising’ by mainstream secular and Christian media. The overwhelming response is to call on churches “to robustly defend moral values with conviction and courage and cease being ‘silent’ and ‘lukewarm’ in the face of moral and social collapse.”

In an introduction, Lord Bromley Betchworth said “Those who spoke, did so with one voice … an alarming indication that there are multitudes of people across Britain and Ireland who feel that their views are not being heard or represented.” The vast majority of the people in Britain and Ireland, he says, are still morally conservative. “They are appalled that moral values and treasured beliefs are being stood on their head and want churches to play a leading role in standing up for these things.”

The survey itself asked four simple questions and avoided ‘tick-box’ responses in favour of written letters. The huge response was a surprise in itself and reflected a growing frustration and anger felt by many ordinary people about the direction of churches and society in general.

Responses displayed a widespread sense of frustration and anger at what was happening to the churches in Britain and Ireland. Many gave variations on the response, “Why hasn’t a survey like this been done before, so we can speak?” “At last, someone is listening, thank you so much.” “Thank you for the chance to express our beliefs without fear.”

Several ‘traditionalist’ Anglican clerics said that they had “to keep their own views to themselves in case their bishop, who held opposing beliefs, would remove them from their diocese.” Many Catholics in North America have written that a similar situation exists there in which the churches are controlled exclusively by bishops and lay administrators who brook no Christian opposition to their officially sanctioned left-liberal dissent from the faith.

91% of responses followed a uniform theme that the decline in traditional Christian moral and doctrinal teaching has caused the outflux of congregations. They listed the lack of apologetics, the reasoned defence and explanation of Christian doctrine, as one of the main reasons for the collapse. “It’s a myth today that the people of this country have rejected Christianity; they simply haven’t been told enough about it to either accept or reject it,” wrote one respondent.

Thousands of letters also cited the lack of emphasis on the holiness of God and the need for personal moral conversion. The desire for teaching on holiness, was prevalent and has been influenced, said the authors, by Mel Gibson’s film, the Passion of the Christ. Many responded that the churches now teach easy forgiveness; an attitude that ‘God loves me anyway,’ and that there is no need to attend church or live a morally demanding Christian life.

The overwhelming majority of respondents were vehemently opposed to ordaining homosexuals and blamed the churches for the rise in pedophilia scandals because of the prevalence of homosexuals in the clergy.

Some celibate homosexuals wrote saying that the prevalence of support for homosexuality in the churches is undermining their efforts to live chastely. One young man wrote, “For sections of the Church to suddenly say that my struggle (to remain chaste)…was for nothing and that it would have been OK to have given in, would be to deny my personal cross for Christ and mock the faithfulness I have shown Him.”

2000 letters asked for a return to traditional liturgy and pointed out that attempts to attract younger people with jazzed-up offerings had failed and had alienated older parishioners. Over 450 said they drove vast distances to attend a traditional liturgical celebration. 1500 letters complained that the modern liturgies ‘bordered on entertainment rather than worship.”

The survey has supported what Christians themselves have been saying for decades, that there is little point in attending a church whose message is no different from that of the materialistic secular world.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial; Extended News; United Kingdom
KEYWORDS: apostasy; britain; christians; england; europeanchristians; greatbritain; paulianityexposed; scotland; signofthetimes; uk; unitedkingdom; wales
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1 posted on 03/07/2005 8:32:46 PM PST by quidnunc
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To: quidnunc
The survey has supported what Christians themselves have been saying for decades, that there is little point in attending a church whose message is no different from that of the materialistic secular world.

Amen.

2 posted on 03/07/2005 8:36:41 PM PST by wallcrawlr (www.bionicear.com)
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To: quidnunc

Geeze who would a thunk it. Think there's a message there that might get through the secularist Pharisees and Sagisees?


3 posted on 03/07/2005 8:37:16 PM PST by SandRat (Duty, Honor, Country. What else needs to be said?)
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To: quidnunc

Preach true Christianity in England and get arrested for a hate crime..

Preach hate filled anti Christian anti semite Islam or Pro sodomite pedophile Pagan witchcraft and get your own tv special

imo


4 posted on 03/07/2005 8:37:22 PM PST by joesnuffy (If GW had been driving....Mary Jo would still be with us...)
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To: quidnunc
"The results of the year-long survey of 14,000 UK residents by the interdenominational Ecumenical Research Committee has been called ‘surprising’ by mainstream secular and Christian media. The overwhelming response is to call on churches “to robustly defend moral values with conviction and courage and cease being ‘silent’ and ‘lukewarm’ in the face of moral and social collapse.”

Even here in my neck of the woods--northern Illinois-- those churches with a reputation for taking the Gospel seriously are bursting at the seams with new members, while the old luke-warm mainline denominations mainly cater to the elderly who grew up in their churches and who couldn't possibly entertain the idea of going somewhere else...

5 posted on 03/07/2005 8:42:57 PM PST by Ronzo (God Bless & Protect all of our troops, wherever they serve.)
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To: quidnunc

If you stand for nothing, nothing will happen.


6 posted on 03/07/2005 8:43:58 PM PST by Republican Wildcat
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To: Ronzo

Even here in my neck of the woods--northern Illinois-- those churches with a reputation for taking the Gospel seriously are bursting at the seams with new members, while the old luke-warm mainline denominations mainly cater to the elderly who grew up in their churches and who couldn't possibly entertain the idea of going somewhere else...

The MSCs are finding empty pews, while Gospel preaching mega-churches are standing room only. They can't build them fast enough.


7 posted on 03/07/2005 8:58:25 PM PST by ETERNAL WARMING (We have the best politicians corporate money can buy)
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To: quidnunc

So the usual line that America is a more religous country than European countries may be false?


8 posted on 03/07/2005 9:00:20 PM PST by etcetera (No man is entitled to the blessings of freedom, unless he be vigilant in its preservation.)
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To: BibChr

ping


9 posted on 03/07/2005 9:06:04 PM PST by Republican Wildcat
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To: Republican Wildcat

We have changed our parish for exactly this reason. We leave feeling spiritually satisfied and fulfilled.

What an awesome feeling!


10 posted on 03/07/2005 9:18:20 PM PST by It's me
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To: quidnunc

Thanks for this post.

I only hope my former pastor in Phoenix
could see this.


11 posted on 03/07/2005 9:19:46 PM PST by righttackle44
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To: etcetera
"So the usual line that America is a more religous country than European countries may be false?"

could be.

12 posted on 03/07/2005 9:24:45 PM PST by jpsb
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To: quidnunc

The pews are not empty in Africa and China. In fact, there are no pews in China, because the churches meet in homes due to the communist government persecution of anyone who does not attend the "Three Self PAtriotic Movement" church, or the national bogus facade church.

Asia and Africa are leading Christianity today as Europe whithers, heaves and dies.


13 posted on 03/07/2005 9:33:06 PM PST by Conservatrix (He who stands for nothing will fall for anything.)
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To: quidnunc

INTREP - ISCHABOD


14 posted on 03/07/2005 9:33:41 PM PST by LiteKeeper (The radical secularization of America is happening)
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To: Republican Wildcat

Check my tagline...


15 posted on 03/07/2005 9:33:48 PM PST by Conservatrix (He who stands for nothing will fall for anything.)
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To: quidnunc

Wow...This explains a LOT. What a great survey!


16 posted on 03/07/2005 11:06:37 PM PST by lainde ( ...We are NOT European, we are American, and we have different principles!")
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To: quidnunc; Quix
the emptying of the churches has been caused mainly by preaching and pastoral care that has been emptied of moral or doctrinal Christian content.

You can say that again! Same in the US! WOuldn't want to preach against homos or abortion..might offend some collection plate doners.

17 posted on 03/08/2005 2:11:13 AM PST by Indie (Ignorance of the truth is no excuse for stupidity.)
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To: Indie

Far, far, far too true!


18 posted on 03/08/2005 5:09:09 AM PST by Quix (HAVING A FORM of GODLINESS but DENYING IT'S POWER. 2 TIM 3:5)
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To: Alamo-Girl; betty boop; Thermopylae

*PING*

I think you ladies might be interested in this article, if you haven't already read it...

"London – With Christian moral values and legal protections under assault on all sides, it is commonly said that the reason pews are emptying is that traditional religion is not relevant. A new survey of thousands of churchgoers in the UK says the opposite however, and indicates that the emptying of the churches has been caused mainly by preaching and pastoral care that has been emptied of moral or doctrinal Christian content."

19 posted on 03/08/2005 11:27:25 AM PST by Ronzo (God Bless & Protect all of our troops, wherever they serve.)
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To: Ronzo

Indeed. Thanks for the ping!


20 posted on 03/08/2005 11:33:11 AM PST by Alamo-Girl
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To: Ronzo; Alamo-Girl; marron
A new survey of thousands of churchgoers in the UK says the opposite however, and indicates that the emptying of the churches has been caused mainly by preaching and pastoral care that has been emptied of moral or doctrinal Christian content."

I would tend to agree with this statement, Ronzo. I remember several years back an Easter morning when I watched the Roman Catholic Mass on television, and then attended Easter Service at a local Congregational church. The sermon at Mass was given by the late Cardinal Medieros of Boston, and its subject matter was the injustice of the war against the insurgents in Nicaragua. The sermon at the Congregational service was about the nastiness of materialism/consumerism, with a special complaint about people desiring to own fancy cars....

Sigh. It was most discouraging fare for the holiest day of the year, in which we Christians celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord Christ. Pastors should be about the business of saving souls, not about dispensing "moral uplift" consistent with PC fashion.... JMHO FWIW

21 posted on 03/08/2005 1:17:33 PM PST by betty boop
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To: quidnunc

If the Brits disestablished the C of E things would begin to change.


22 posted on 03/08/2005 1:22:58 PM PST by colorado tanker (The People Have Spoken)
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To: betty boop
An excellent case-in-point, betty boop! One should not be surprised when the people follow the spiritual leading that they are given. As Jesus said in the Sermon on Mount (Matt 7) - a bad tree cannot produce good fruit.
23 posted on 03/08/2005 1:37:18 PM PST by Alamo-Girl
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To: MadIvan

local news young chap

I how you view this analysis?


24 posted on 03/08/2005 1:41:43 PM PST by KC Burke (Men of intemperate minds can never be free....)
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To: KC Burke
My denomination Every Nation is planting a church in Edinborough this summer. Already have several dozen folks packed up and ready to go. "The fields are white unto harvest. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest that He would send forth laborers..."
25 posted on 03/08/2005 1:48:21 PM PST by TomSmedley (Calvinist, optimist, home schooling dad, exuberant husband, technical writer)
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To: MadIvan
I should have correctly typed: I Hhow do you view this analysis?
26 posted on 03/08/2005 2:55:10 PM PST by KC Burke (Men of intemperate minds can never be free....)
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To: KC Burke; MadIvan; Quix; TomSmedley; Indie; Alamo-Girl; betty boop; Thermopylae; LiteKeeper; ...

British people have a view of Christianity that closely resembles what Americans would call "civic churchianity". Little of the true gospel is preached, and all you get is a more like a smoagsboard of traditions, national (British) culture, and intellectual fads. They won't know this is NOT genuine Christianity because their government schools and public schools have "religious studies" that teach something similar. I think the Queen is probably a true Christian, but Diana was definitely living in sin.

Poeple that go to non-conformist churches, house church groups, or independent/baptist churches (which are outside the Baptist Union of Great Britain) have a better understanding of truth. But they are only about 2% of British populations.

Much of what we know as biblical Christian way is perceived as "American fundamentalist Christian beliefs" in Britain in general. I heard that on some very popular Christian websites like Rapture Ready, Crosswalk, etc, there are so few Christians from Britain visiting these sites that there are more people from Australia accessing them than those of Britain, despite Australia has 20 million people versus Britain's 55 million.


27 posted on 03/08/2005 4:37:25 PM PST by NZerFromHK ("US libs...hypocritical, naive, pompous...if US falls it will be because of these" - Tao Kit (HK))
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To: betty boop; Alamo-Girl

I usually heard something very similar among Christians in East Asia, except that they are still Bible-believing and preach the gospel on other occasions. I personally think such stands (biblical Christian and politically leftist) is misguided but there are plenty that think political conservatism can only come out of religious liberalism.


28 posted on 03/08/2005 4:42:04 PM PST by NZerFromHK ("US libs...hypocritical, naive, pompous...if US falls it will be because of these" - Tao Kit (HK))
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To: betty boop; Alamo-Girl; marron
"I remember several years back an Easter morning when I watched the Roman Catholic Mass on television, and then attended Easter Service at a local Congregational church. The sermon at Mass was given by the late Cardinal Medieros of Boston, and its subject matter was the injustice of the war against the insurgents in Nicaragua. The sermon at the Congregational service was about the nastiness of materialism/consumerism, with a special complaint about people desiring to own fancy cars...."

Too true betty. On one hand you have preachers who sound like they are charter members of MoveOn.org, on the other hand you have the guys who teach such a theologically sound message (i.e. "safe"), it could cure the worst insomniac. As wise old King Solomon once said:

In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these:
a righteous man perishing in his righteousness,
and a wicked man living long in his wickedness.
Do not be overrighteous,
neither be overwise—
why destroy yourself?
Do not be overwicked,
and do not be a fool—
why die before your time?
It is good to grasp the one
and not let go of the other.
The man who fears God will avoid all extremes. (Ecc 7:15-18 NIV)

(Kind of reminds one of the old bromide: "Everything in moderation…")

Some humble observations I have about church in general:

1. The churches I've seen prosper in my little corner of Illinois are those churches that are very much centered on the Word of God, are socially and politically conservative, and do there best to avoid all the petty little garbage that makes Christians such a laughing stock, like endless arguments over various Bible translations, systematic theology, and other such non-essentials. Rather, they try to preach the Bible as best as they can along with the core doctrines of Christian theology. And depending on their philosophy, they even make very effective use of the most modern English Bible translations and paraphrases. Not surprisingly, all these churches are also non-denominational, and reject any sort of overly centralized control.

2. But even the Catholics in my area are far more interested in their faith than I've seen anywhere else. We have one especially good Catholic church just a few minutes north of here with a pastor who is one of the most effective men of God I've ever known. Everyone in his church just loves him, and for good reason. He has this uncanny ability to be gentle and loving, yet can preach the TRUTH of a matter with complete effectiveness, never shying from hard reality. He also goes out of his way to let everyone in that church know that he's there for them, no matter what. I haven't been to one of his masses in over three years, yet the last mass I went to was so powerful, I can remember most of it like it was just yesterday. I only can wish this was so my own little non-denominational protestant pastors, who's "sermons" can hardly be remembered 15 minutes after walking out the door…

3. Yet, despite the powerful demand for solid, Jesus believing churches that teach core issues, there is still a very noticeable "Oprahfication" (how's that for coining a term?) of even Bible believing, evangelical churches. Far too much love, hugs, and gooey sentimentality, with a deliberate unwillingness to be a true counter-cultural force in this world. Yes, even the best churches seem to be taking their cues from Oprah rather than Jesus.

Does this sound like gooey sentimentality to you: "But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born." Nope, doesn't sound like it to me either… (Mk 14:21)

But the other extreme, the old "fire & brimstone" route, is not the way to go either. But a right balance between the two seems difficult, if not impossible to achieve.

4. I've also noticed that there is a type of person that even the best churches don't do right by, and that is the one who has some serious issues walking out their sanctification, usually because they have suffered various negative ordeals in this life, and can't quite make right decisions due to their woundedness. I can't tell you how many of these types I've come across, and how very disappointed they are with the help they receive from church leadership. Most often, these pour souls are the recipients of every pat answer and cliché in the book, but little, if anything is done to help them get to the roots of their issues. One guy I know was so disgusted with the lack of concern his Bible-believing church showed him while he was dealing with some rather painful issues, that he went off into the New Age movement, for at least he found some New Agers who could empathize with him!

One good thing I will say about my congregation is that they are waking up to this need, and are trying to take some steps to help meet people's deeper emotional and spiritual issues.

5. But that which I find most perplexing, even from the best churches in my area, is the incredible level of superficiality that is allowed to exist. There are some churches who consciously choose to keep their teachings and instruction at a basic level, because they feel it is their mission it to redeem the lost, not sanctify the faithful. I have nothing against those types of churches, for they understand their weaknesses, and don't try to be something they're not. But for those other churches, like my own, who want to be a "full-service" institution, I don't see much difference between them and the entry-level congregations. As a matter of fact, some need to improve just to make it to the entry-level category. This is a most serious evil.

6. If I can sum up all the angst I've heard in the past years, from those who have found church lacking, it would be that they don’t feel as if church leadership cares about them as individuals. Often times these souls find solace in parachurch organizations, professional counseling, or even from other members of the congregation, so it's not as if there's no recourse at all. However, it is odd that those who are suffering often have to go outside their own church (or any church) to find the comfort and healing they seek.

7. One thing I'm realizing the longer I'm in the faith is the tremendous cost involved in taking Jesus seriously. He will wreck your life, and He certainly has wrecked mine…all for the better. Even here in the United States, where the cost of being a Christian appears to be rather miniscule (as opposed to Saudi Arabia where it would mean a literal death sentence) there is a far greater cost than we realize. Very little in our culture, even in the conservative culture, is kosher with serious Christianity. In order to enter into the experience of transformation through sanctification, it will cost you. Perhaps that's why it seems to me that there are so many churches, even conservative ones, that are so superficial. Perhaps subconsciously they realize the true cost of the cross of Christ, and just don't want to pay it.

So just what is this cost we must pay? Nothing less than total and complete death to self.

29 posted on 03/08/2005 7:55:05 PM PST by Ronzo (God ALONE is enough.)
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To: NZerFromHK; betty boop
Thank you so much for sharing your testimony and experience!

What matters to me is the Christ is preached and Him crucified. The politics fall in place as we love God absolutely and our neighbor unconditionally.

30 posted on 03/08/2005 8:26:24 PM PST by Alamo-Girl
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To: quidnunc

This appears to refer mainly to the Anglican church. I wonder about other denominations (such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Baptists, Mormons and fundamentalists) which take a more moral approach.


31 posted on 03/08/2005 8:37:41 PM PST by Frumious Bandersnatch
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To: Ronzo
Thank you so much for your post and for your testimony!

Actually I think you asked and answered your own concerns - for those very people who are suffering so deeply and not being fed by the church or congregation are the ones being sanctified by God.

And the answer is this: the church cannot fill them, the congregation cannot heal them, only God can. The more they look to others - the more they concentrate on their own suffering instead of the Healer, the longer it will take them to be sanctified.

As you said, "One thing I'm realizing the longer I'm in the faith is the tremendous cost involved in taking Jesus seriously. He will wreck your life, and He certainly has wrecked mine…all for the better."

When a person has surrendered himself to Christ, this is what happens. Every part of his life will be undone, he will be utterly emptied of all earthy concerns until he turns to Christ wholly and fully. That is sanctification. It is not for the faint hearted.

For anyone on that path, I strongly recommend Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest as a daily devotion. It is posted here daily, available in bookstores, and can be read on the link.

32 posted on 03/08/2005 8:39:37 PM PST by Alamo-Girl
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To: Ronzo; Alamo-Girl; marron; xzins; Heartlander; Tribune7; Dataman
But the other extreme, the old "fire & brimstone" route, is not the way to go either. But a right balance between the two seems difficult, if not impossible to achieve.

And if achieved, would probably spare lots of folks and their families costly visits to psychiatrists, psychologists, family counsellors, etc., etc.

What a beautiful essay, Ronzo! So perceptive and wise.

You wrote this, and so probably a lot of folks think you're nutz: "So just what is this cost we must pay? Nothing less than total and complete death to self."

Notwithstanding the putative social benefits arising from spiritually sensitive ministry by Christian clergy and community, this is what to be truly born-again effectuates: the turning of one's life around altogether, by turning to Christ, and away from the passing vanities of this world.

Christ is the Logos, Who was God, and Who was with God in the Beginning; He is Alpha and Omega, which are the Names of eternal Truth -- on Whom everything in the created universe depends for every second of every day.

And He came again, incarnated as fully and really human, to fulfill the Law, and to redeem sinners -- to restore the prodigals to their Father.

The rest is up to us, hopefully with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Well, that would be my witness anyway.

Thank you so much for your outstanding essay, Ronzo. May God ever bless you and all of yours.

33 posted on 03/09/2005 8:08:51 PM PST by betty boop (If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking. -- Gen. George S. Patton)
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To: Ronzo

bump


34 posted on 03/09/2005 8:27:57 PM PST by Tribune7
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To: betty boop

Thank you so very much for your beautiful testimony and witness!!!


35 posted on 03/09/2005 8:52:07 PM PST by Alamo-Girl
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To: wallcrawlr
I used to call my church The Methodist Social Club. It was all about driving the shiny car, wearing the most expensive clothes, making sure the right people saw you there and no real beliefs. We had a minister for time who didn't even believe in God!

Secular Humanism has taken over our churches too.

36 posted on 03/09/2005 8:57:00 PM PST by tiki (Won one against the Flipper)
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To: Tantumergo; american colleen; sinkspur; Phx_RC; kstewskis

For different reasons,I think each of you will find this thread very interesting and in one case,disturbing.


37 posted on 03/09/2005 9:15:33 PM PST by saradippity
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To: Ronzo

Outstanding. Simply outstanding.


38 posted on 03/09/2005 9:21:02 PM PST by sinkspur ("Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words.")
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To: quidnunc

1 Cor 2:2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.


39 posted on 03/09/2005 9:22:30 PM PST by Fester Chugabrew
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To: Ronzo
So just what is this cost we must pay? Nothing less than total and complete death to self.

Any death to self the Christian experiences is a result of the death to Self our dear Lord Jesus endured on our behalf. "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me."

May it be an everlasting source of comfort that our righteousness before God depends not upon our own efforts, but upon the mercy of God in Christ Jesus who is our substitute and advocate before the Father, to whom we may plead as children, and to whom we look for every good thing in this life and in the life to come.

Yes.

40 posted on 03/09/2005 9:31:04 PM PST by Fester Chugabrew
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To: Ronzo

FWIW, this skeptic thinks your essay was outstanding and wise, and of course very well constructed and written. Indeed, it is of publishable quality.


41 posted on 03/09/2005 9:35:33 PM PST by Torie
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To: Ronzo; saradippity; Tantumergo; american colleen; sinkspur; Phx_RC
In order to enter into the experience of transformation through sanctification, it will cost you. Perhaps that's why it seems to me that there are so many churches, even conservative ones, that are so superficial. Perhaps subconsciously they realize the true cost of the cross of Christ, and just don't want to pay it.

You nailed it....so to speak :)

42 posted on 03/09/2005 9:51:47 PM PST by kstewskis ("Tolerance is what happens when one loses their principles"....Fr. A Saenz.)
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To: kstewskis
Absolutely great tagline!! Is that attributable to the young priest who has been offering the Tridentine Mass in Phoenix?
43 posted on 03/09/2005 11:06:04 PM PST by saradippity
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To: saradippity
that it is.

taken directly from his sermon a few weeks ago :)

44 posted on 03/10/2005 7:09:31 AM PST by kstewskis ("Tolerance is what happens when one loses their principles"....Fr. A Saenz.)
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To: betty boop; Alamo-Girl; marron; xzins; Heartlander; Tribune7; Dataman; Tantumergo; ...
I just wanted to thank everyone for their warm, supportive replies to my post!

Alamo-Girl, you stated something in your reply that I think bears some further development:

"...those very people who are suffering so deeply and not being fed by the church or congregation are the ones being sanctified by God. And the answer is this: the church cannot fill them, the congregation cannot heal them, only God can. The more they look to others - the more they concentrate on their own suffering instead of the Healer, the longer it will take them to be sanctified."

Excellent point A-G. It reminds me of a passage of scripture that we've discussed before, but I think it's quite relevant to bring it up again. That passage being the parable of the ten virgins:

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent.

For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps.

Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps.

“The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’

“But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’

“And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut.

“Later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘ Lord, lord, open up for us.’

“But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’

“ Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.

(Matthew 25:1 NASB)

For me, this is a parable of sanctification, and it's ultimate reward when taken seriously, and it's terrible cost if neglected.

Why couldn't the five prudent virgins share their oil with those who were foolish? Because there wasn't enough oil for the both of them. While this might seem rather selfish on the part of the five prudent virgins, it isn't really selfishness at all that is involved here, rather it's exactly what A-G said:

"...the church cannot fill them, the congregation cannot heal them, only God can. The more they look to others - the more they concentrate on their own suffering instead of the Healer, the longer it will take them to be sanctified"

If you allow the oil to symbolize a righteous, sanctified life, then you understand why the five prudent virgins were unable to share their supply--it's simply not possible. It's so obvious we hardly ever think about it, but the simple truth is that everyone lives or dies based on their own "goodness." Or, more accurately, their seriousness in embracing the cross of Christ, which is really the only place where "goodness" can possibly come from.

The five foolish virgins remind me very much of the negative examples in this other parable of Jesus, the sower of seeds:

“Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up.

“Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. “But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.

“Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out.

“And others fell on the good soil and *yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.

(Matthew 13:3-8 NASB)

This parable must be communicating an important truth, for it is one of the very few parables that Jesus takes time to explain in plain language:

“ Hear then the parable of the sower.

“When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road.

“The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.

“And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.

“And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.”

(Matthew 13:18-23 NASB)

The five foolish virgins, who had their lamps buring for a while, are just like those who accepted Jesus' teachings, only to later reject them because it's just too much of a bother. And it is a bother! You either walk out your commitment to Jesus by His terms, or you redefine Jesus to make Him easier to live with. And for some, you just jetison Jesus altogether, and find some easier way to make it through life without all that tiresome morality, and right-living, and right-mindeness and so on and so on...

But then there's those five prudent (wise) virgins, and their counterpart: the man who actually accepted the terms of the Kingdom and kept to them until they bore fruit.

So what is this multiplicity of "fruit" that Jesus talks about? Is it new converts to Christianity? Is it more money in your bank account? Is it the ability to pick better stocks and investments? I've heard all those explanations come out of the mouths of conservative Christian ministers in the past, but I don't think any of them quite get it!

The fruit is just this: those actions that come from living in accordance with the teachings of Jesus. It might just be calling your grandmother; it might just be giving a drink of water to someone who's thirsty ("Ben Hur" anyone?); it might just mean encouraging someone who's had a hard day. It might even mean (horror of horrors!!!) washing the dishes so your wife can sit down at rest for a while. Not very big world-changing actions really, some will never be known outside of one or two people, but all of them are seen and appreciated by the One who led by example.

Jesus doesn't mention it in the "sower of seeds" parable, but there is a "secret" to bearing this kind of fruit, and he mentions it a little later on in this passage:

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal."

(John 12:24-25 NASB)

The secret to bearing much fruit: Death. Just like a seed must "die" in order to sprout up into a seed bearing plant, so too must we die before there is any hope of us being able to live a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and goodness (not to mention, self-control.)

There is a famous Hollywood movie I truly believe to be the best illustration of what it means to die to self: Bill Murray's "Groundhog Day." If ever there were a movie that illustrates a man coming to the end of himself, that film would be it.

But no one else can die for you, not even Jesus! Yes, he did die for us, but we kind of miss the point when we say that. It just wasn't his dying for our sins that was so very important, but to set an example for the rest of us to follow! Jesus still expects us to pick up our own crosses, and follow right after him. Strange, but just accepting His death is not enough, you have to join Him.

And so it is with sanctification. You can't do it for someone else. You can't take your own righteousness and sell it on eBay. You can't give your oil to the foolish virgins who left their supply at home.

But we can do something; we can encourage others along the path, and be honest about the suffering that awaits us on that journey.

I think that's what so many people are really looking for and not finding in the church: that small narrow way that is hard, difficult, and a pain-in-the-butt. Deep down we know that we need more than someone telling us everything we'll be OK, that there's no need to take this Jesus thing too seriously. Rather, we want someone to tell us it's hard, and that it's not easy, and they will, at the very least, stand by us as we encounter the cross for ourselves.

But often we don't even get that. Most of what passes for "hard" teachings in my corner of the world are sin management strategies, exhortations to tithe, and condemnation of those who are having a difficult time with their flesh. There's no symphathy and no emphathy. No one to lead us to the cross, knowing how difficult that journey is. Instead it's Jesus did it ALL for us, all we have to do is accept it. But obvioulsy, that's not what Jesus said:

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS.

(Matthew 16:24-28 NASB)

That's what I'd like to find in a church. Just someone in leadership who will tell us we need to die, then willingly help us get to that place. Is that so much to ask???

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

In light of Alamo-Girl's recommendation of Oswald Chambers, Here's a few books that have helped me quite a bit in my own process of sanctification:

THE IMITATION OF CHRIST - Thomas Kempis: Simply the most powerful book on the renunciation of self and the seeking after of Christ ever written. Though not a 365 day devotional like "My Utmost for His Highest", the short, intense chapters can easily be read in a devotional way. Instead of talking about Jesus and following him, Kempis writes in such a way that it is Jesus speaking directly to you! Sample quote:

"How dull and insensible is man's heart thinking only of the present and not caring about what is to come! Your every thought and action should be that of a man who is to die this day. If you had a good conscience you would not especially fear death; indeed, it is easier to fly from sin that to flee death. If you are not prepared to die today, will you be prepared tomorrow? Tomorrow is still uncertain, and how do you know you will see a tomorrow?" (Ch. 23-Meditations on Death)

CONTEMPLATION IN A WORLD OF ACTION - Thomas Merton: A very interesting exploration of what it means to be human, and the pitfalls and weaknesses of the human condition. The value of this book is Merton's understanding that a leader cannot have a "cookie-cutter" approach to dealing with individuals desiring a religious life, but one must understand their deeper needs and problems. Sample quote:

"This is simply the voice of a self-questioning human person who, like all his brothers, struggles to cope with turbulent, mysterious, demanding, exciting, frustrating, confused existence in which almost nothing is really predictable, in which most definitions, explanations and justifications become incredible even before they are uttered, in which people suffer together and are sometimes utterly beautiful, at other times impossibly pathetic. In which there is much that is frightening, in which almost everything public is patently phony, and in which there is at the same time an immense ground of personal authenticity that is right there and so obvious that no one can talk about it and cannot even believe that it is there." (pg. 142)

THE TRANSFORMATION OF INNER MAN - John & Paula Sanford: There are very, very few books that are explicitly about sanctification, but this is one of them. Don't read this unless you want to change, for it is literally a life-changing book. The first chapter, "Sanctification and Transformation" is the single best piece of writing on sanctification I've ever come across. Sample quote:

"Good or bad, whatever of character is built in us must come to death and reformation in Christ. Sanctification is not a process of removing each spot of corrupt practices until the whole nature shines as something beautiful (as I had thought). Far from knowing ourselves to be perfectly formed, we know ourselves to be perfectly corrupted and have come to rest about that in Jesus." (pg. 13)

45 posted on 03/10/2005 9:13:52 AM PST by Ronzo (God ALONE is enough.)
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To: Ronzo; Alamo-Girl; P-Marlowe; Corin Stormhands
Thank you for emphasizing that no one else can die for us.

Jesus did tell us to take up our cross and follow him. He did sacrifice himself for us, and that is the basis of our empowerment to take up our own cross. We love him because he first loved us.

However, there is a cross that each has to carry. I read a sermon with a similar theme by an old baptist preacher (George Truitt?) about burdens. Some we cast on him, some we carry for other or they for us, and some we must carry ourselves.

"You've got to walk that lonesome valley
You've got to walk it by yourself
Oh, nobody else can walk it for you
You've got to walk it by yourself
"

46 posted on 03/10/2005 9:26:59 AM PST by xzins ( Retired Army Chaplain and Proud of it!)
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To: Ronzo
Deep down we know that we need more than someone telling us everything we'll be OK, that there's no need to take this Jesus thing too seriously. Rather, we want someone to tell us it's hard, and that it's not easy, and they will, at the very least, stand by us as we encounter the cross for ourselves.

Yes, Ronzo -- exactly. And this is what is missing in many churches today. Perhaps that's "unfair," though: I do live in Massachusetts, and the "received public (secular) orthodoxies" are particularly strong here. It's sad to me that the churches -- at least the ones I've been to -- have allowed themselves to be so captured by the "spirit of the age."

Thank you for the book recommendations; I have the Thomas a Kempis already; Merton's remarks as quoted are deepling intriguing, so I will have to buy that book!

Thanks so very much for writing, Ronzo!

47 posted on 03/10/2005 9:50:41 AM PST by betty boop (If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking. -- Gen. George S. Patton)
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To: Ronzo
What a beautiful essay, sermon or testimony! (I'm not sure how to characterize it, it is useful in so many ways). Thank you!!!
48 posted on 03/10/2005 10:21:46 AM PST by Alamo-Girl
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To: saradippity; american colleen; sinkspur; Phx_RC; kstewskis; Ronzo

"A new survey of thousands of churchgoers in the UK says the opposite however, and indicates that the emptying of the churches has been caused mainly by preaching and pastoral care that has been emptied of moral or doctrinal Christian content."

I can't accept this at all! Our Mass attendance has gone up 28% in the last 18 months and my PP and I specialize in liberal, vacuous homilies and wishy-washy sacramental preparation. I just don't know why these little pagans keep asking for baptism!


49 posted on 03/10/2005 10:37:50 AM PST by Tantumergo
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To: Ronzo
CONTEMPLATION IN A WORLD OF ACTION - Thomas Merton:

I, too, like Merton. His "Seven Story Mountain" written after WWII was cited by many men who were ordained priests in the 50s and 60s as inspiration to them to go forward in recognizing their vocations. Almost every one of his books, some written 60 years ago, are still in print.

But, you will encounter some opposition to this good man from some quarters around here.

You should write down your commentaries. They would be valuable to clergy in preparing for homilies or leaders of scripture studies.

I'd pay you for them.

50 posted on 03/10/2005 12:46:02 PM PST by sinkspur ("Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words.")
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