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Tempora mutantur?

3 Apr

People keep telling me we have to reappraise our understanding of the Bible because society’s attitudes have changed with the times.

What if God wrote what He wrote in the Bible because He didn’t want society’s attitudes to certain things to change?

 

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Me every day on the internet

11 Mar
Things I repeatedly find myself saying on the internet and social media:
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– That’s not true.
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– That missing person was found weeks ago.
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– That person was never missing in the first place.
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– That’s a very old hoax.
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– That hoax is older than your Mom.
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– That’s a new hoax.
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– Just kidding – it’s even older than the first one.
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– And your Mom.
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– No, Jesus didn’t say that.
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– And Christians don’t believe that.
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– Or do that.
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– Or that.
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– Not if they are serious about following Jesus, anyway.
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– Which is what actual Christianity is, y’know, about.
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– Yes, we do have evidence.
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– Again, that thing you reposted on Facebook is a hoax – check Snopes.
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– And Wikipedia.
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– And any reputable news source.
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– And real life.
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– The effect of that change in social mores has not been nearly so beneficial as you claim, on any number of metrics that are commonly accepted as indicators of health, security and wellbeing.
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– I know it’s only “one study”. It’s not the only one, and I’m telling you to keep an open mind.
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– You’ll get the “lots of studies” when I find time to write a book about it. Otherwise, the research is out there. Has it occurred to you that maybe the real science doesn’t sell newspapers?
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– Or that politicians don’t care about it?
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– Yes, man did land on the Moon.
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– No, we have not collaborated with aliens to build a secret base there.
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– The second shadow comes from sunlight reflected by Earth, not studio lighting.
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– No, not everything you read on Snopes is true.
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– Because not everybody on Snopes understands what they are talking about.
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– Or that opinion is not the same as logic, analysis or an impartial and thorough review of actual evidence.
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– Nibiru? No.
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– Because we would have seen it in all kinds of ways.
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– But not on your mobile phone.
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– Nor as a second sun mysteriously caught on a TV camera in one broadcast but also mysteriously invisible to billions of other people, millions of other cameras and the whole scientific community.
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– Could you take my word on this one? Or make a common-sense assessment?
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– Please?
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– Nor Planet X.
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– Nor chemtrails.
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– Guns. Kill. People.
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– Yes, there is a Planet 9.
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– But it doesn’t do the things you say Planet X does.
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– Which would make it not actually proof of your crackpot theory.
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– Well, the person who first published the Nibiru theory claimed to have been spoken to by aliens.
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– But who am I to judge?
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– No, Hitler and the Nazis weren’t Christians.
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– Pretty sure, actually.
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– And they didn’t get caught up in a secret plot to perpetuate the Third Reich through the 1960s space race.
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– The proposed changes in the legislation are not nearly so benign and neutral as this pressure group makes out.
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– It’s not homophobic to point that out.
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– Or transphobic.
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– Or bigoted.
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– It’s called freedom of speech.
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– And thought.
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– Yes, if it has a penis and testicles that produce sperm, it’s probably still a man.
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– It’s not homophobic to point that out.
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– Or transphobic.
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– Or bigoted.
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– It’s called scientific fact.
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– And thought.
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– Which was what we believed in before we decided feelings were the ultimate arbitrator of reality.
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– And after we did away with God.
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– Look, just let me know when Caitlyn Jenner starts menstruating.
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– Could you please actually read the Bible?
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– And try to understand that a New Testament can repeal sections of an Old Testament?
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– Or ask a Christian what they believe?
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– And how they come to that belief?
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– And how they live it out in practice?
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– Rather than telling them they believe and do what Richard Dawkins told you they believe and do?
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– Or that lobby group.
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– Or the National Secularist Foundation of Societies for Freedom From Religion And Anything That Questions Our Unquestioning Self-Regard.
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– *yawn*
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– Yes, I do eat prawns.
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– But not oysters.
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– You may have misunderstood the purpose of that commandment in the Old Testament.
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– And imposed a 21st-century, post-modern view of justice and democracy upon it.
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– Because an unmarried woman who had been raped couldn’t just go and claim social security in 1500 BC Sinai, that’s why.
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– Ditto that commandment.
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– And that commandment.
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– Seriously? Yes, that commandment too.
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– It’s not just an unfeeling clump of cells.
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– Three words: Abortion to term.
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– Liberal Christians don’t want to believe the Bible any more than you do. The clue’s in the name.
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– I know Rob Bell said it.
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– But Jesus didn’t.
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– If Jesus didn’t talk about that thing, maybe it was because it was already commonly understood in that era from 1,500 years of Jewish history and law.
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– Have you seen oysters? Seriously, no, thank you!
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– No, it’s not a Delusion.
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– And the translators do know what they are doing.
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– And the real history of the Crusades is not like that.
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– The evidence is there – you just have to investigate it honestly.
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– For yourself.
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– Because if Richard Dawkins is as blinkered, unresearched and biased as you are,* then it’s the blind leading the blind.
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– Well, there’s a chance that if you investigate these things for yourself you will achieve that thing that you’re always insisting I should do.
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– “What’s that?”
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– Learn something that will open your eyes.   :o)
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PS:
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– No, Jesus won’t turn you away for believing in Nibiru.
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– Salvation comes by faith in a God who has revealed Himself in numerous ways.
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– Not by passing a science test.
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Thank you for reading.
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*There is plenty of evidence that this is so.
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Don’t worry, Church – secularism has your back!

22 Dec

Does the church really need society to be secular to ensure religious freedom?

A commentator on this blog post helped to crystallise a few thoughts which have been circulating in my addled brain recently on the subject of secularism’s claim to be interested in religious freedom.

What the lady said was: “…the purpose of a secular society… is not to restrict, destroy or ban your right to believe, but to protect it. And not just for you, or for other Christians, but for everyone.” She’s by no means unique in this view; it has been on my mind for a while just how the secular lobby seems to see itself as the referee in matters of religious rights, apparently ensuring that all the believers from different religions play safely in an arena run by non-believers for the benefit of all.

How cute, I thought as I read her comments. And how naive.

It’s cute, because I’m delighted that the church, after struggling for 2,000 years to make headway in the world, finally has a bunch of unbelievers who are willing to look out for it.

I hope my sarcasm is shining through.

And it’s naive, because anyone who thinks that the agenda of the secular lobby is to protect, ensure, or otherwise facilitate the exercise of religion, is living in cloud-cuckoo land.

The truth of the matter is that not only has the church been quite able to take care of its own freedoms, thank you very much, but it has also been unique in its tolerance of other religions.

Okay, so strongly Christian local councils in western democracies may not be rushing to grant planning permission for new mosques, but look on the flip side: Christians in Muslim lands are routinely arrested and imprisoned for their faith, with some facing the death penalty.

As a religion of state, Christianity grants unparalleled freedoms to those of other religions, while other national religions (with the honourable exception of Judaism – could there be a connection?) are openly and obviously hostile to anything that smacks of apostasy or competition. In countries where religions other than Christianity dominate, life can be anything but safe for those who possess a Bible or who assemble to worship God in the person of Jesus Christ. And it is often unsafe for followers of other religions not sanctioned by the state as well.

Christian missionary organisation Open Doors has a watchlist of countries in which Christians are persecuted for their faith. Most of the Islamic Middle East is on it, along with North Africa, China and parts of Asia.

In the vast majority of Christian lands, however, anybody of another religion has the right to worship Allah, Buddha or Krishna (or the deities of a myriad of other religions) without fearing a knock on the door, imprisonment or deprivation of normal human rights. If there is a Christian nation whose government imprisons non-Christians for being non-Christian, I’m hard pressed to think of it.

So why does secularism offer itself as the guarantor of religious freedom and so glibly imply that Christianity is not up to the job? It is breathtakingly arrogant on the part of secular people – the kind of breathtaking arrogance of which secularists normally accuse Christians when they state that Jesus is the only way to God – to suggest that they are best placed to have religious people’s interests at heart. I’m pretty sure my Muslim, Hindu and other religious counterparts would agree on this point. “Thanks for the offer of help, but really, no thanks,” I imagine them saying.

Why can’t religions be their own advocates, without secularists meddling? While it’s true that secularists and Christians are standing together to preserve freedom of speech in the face of parliamentary bills that could criminalise street preachers, coming together in that fashion to protect a right from which so many movements can benefit is a bit different from asserting that the church can only thrive if secularism is there to protect it. Most religions seem to be perfectly at home with arguing their own case. Since no actual oppression of other religions by Christianity is taking place, why get involved? Obstacles to the building of mosques don’t really count – it is hardly persecution, and if Christian faith is to be both recognised as a good thing and if its tenets are to be properly observed (one of which happens to be exclusivity as regards what is divine), it does not seem right to pour resources into promoting other religions. They have the right to make their own way, free from persecution.

What secularists really believe, of course, is that religion is of no significance. With that established, it naturally makes sense that no religious person should be allowed to advocate for religious freedom, lest they foul it up for everyone by, y’know, actually taking their beliefs seriously.

And why should we let secularists impose any form of control on religion, even in the name of religious freedom? A quick feel of the pulse locates the secularist in one of two views. In one view, all religion is dangerous and should be eradicated. This is the view of Richard Dawkins and a great many others. The other view has religions back-to-front: when you hear a secularist (and indeed some “spiritual” or superficially religious people) saying “Islam is a religion of peace” and then blaming Christianity for the Crusades and virtually every other war or tribal conflict since, you know that (a.) that person hasn’t bothered to study either, and (b.) they intend to use this obfuscation to undermine Christian belief and practice, since that is the real target of their obvious misrepresentations.

Neither of these views offers much comfort for the religious people whom the secularists purport to serve. At least the National Secular Society and the Freedom From Religion Foundation are honest about their goals, but the “we’re here to ensure freedom for all” brand of secularism is disingenuous.

If Dawkins-style hostile atheism is a frontal assault on Christian belief, the supposedly supportive version of secularism is an attempt to render Christianity ineffective by making it as bland as possible – with the help of a smiley, faux-concerned appeal to our desire for religious survival.

As the Proverbs put it, “Whoever flatters his neighbour is spreading a net for his feet.” (Prov. 29:5)

So let us not be impressed by the claims of secularists to represent religious freedom. The very name “secular” indicates quite clearly how many figs they actually give for God, Jesus, the Bible, or the values Christians should be standing for. And let us, as this blogger argues, stand up for Christianity in the public space.

Because atheists and secularists sure as hell aren’t going to do it for us.

“Spirituality” does not mean “morality” or “wisdom”

9 Dec

“I’m spiritual, not religious.” That’s what people say today when they want to make out that they are taking care of their inner man or inner woman. “I take deep, spiritual things seriously,” they want to tell you. Along with, “I think of myself as a good person,” and “I feel I have access to God, and am sure I will go to be part of the Great Light in the sky when I die.”

It sounds great, doesn’t it? The problem is, it’s a crock. And here’s why.

“Spirituality”, as most people mean it, is divorced from “organised religion”. “No churchgoing for me, thank you!” “I don’t want to give up on the idea of there being Something Out There, but nobody had better tell me what to do!”

An example occurred just today. A Facebook friend (as distinct from a real-world friend) who describes herself as “spiritual” regularly posts cheering thoughts for the day about how to live a more god-centred, conscious and considerate lifestyle. But today she posted a picture featuring a “hilarious Christmas drinking game”.

I didn’t consider this suitable for the young people who would be viewing it, and I said so, appealing to her to consider that alcohol abuse leads to all kinds of negative consequences for young people. Earlier this year, this British teenager had three heart attacks and ended up in a coma after downing ten Jagerbombs (shots of Jagermeister spirit in an energy drink) at a nightclub. The fact that it was the caffeine that did most of the damage is beside the point – it was a lack of common sense around alcohol that put her in the situation.

Needless to say, my expressions of concern fell on deaf ears: “My family and friends know this is all just a joke.”

Where is spirituality here? How spiritual are we being if we still think fun and games come from a bottle? Doesn’t “spirituality” teach us to find contentment in things that are truly fulfilling, rather than reaching for an easy chemical fix? Apparently not.

And here’s where spirituality comes up short as a system of values. The Bible and the Gospel of Jesus Christ give us not only spiritual life, but also morality, by teaching us what is right and wrong, and wisdom, by showing us how to live in ways that do not lead ourselves or others into trouble. Spirituality, with its undertone of liberal morality and “anything goes as long as you’re not hurting anyone” values, has none of this. As long as nobody gets hurt – that you can see, anyway – what you’re doing is all right.

Never mind the children and young people who might see a post like that shared by my Facebook friend and think it’s a great idea. Never mind that one of them could end up in hospital, or in a drunk-driving wreck, or the victim of a sexual assault they cannot prove in a court of law because they were too wasted either to fight it off at the time or to remember what happened afterwards. Tragedies only just happen, right? I mean, they are never the responsibility of anybody who planted the idea in that young person’s head, or of the individuals who together make up a society that has lost its way morally. We can’t actually be leading anybody into temptation, can we?

But they are. And we can. And this is what the Bible teaches:

“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak… Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.” (1 Corinthians 8:9,10)

So you can carry on fooling yourself that spirituality – thinking of yourself as godly while not allowing your godliness to affect your actions – is enough if you wish. But to see the Kingdom of God established; to see people lifted out of their misery and distress; to build a society that does not condemn people to suffer the consequences of actions they should have been equipped not to choose in the first place, we need something more.

And that means repenting of our sins and living the way God says to instead of how we want. We need to stop telling ourselves God’s all right with us, and instead come through faith in Jesus Christ to get ourselves right with God. And then we can start exemplifying what is right to those around us.

Of church, community and monopoly

1 May

One of the arguments frequently used by atheists in their attempts to undermine the truth and distinctiveness of Christianity is that we Christians don’t have a monopoly on [insert half-understood view of a cherished Christian belief, characteristic or practice here].

Apparently we don’t have a monopoly on decency, on good citizenship, or on love. I can’t think of many Christians I know who claim that we do have a monopoly on the milk of human kindness, yet I think we should be pointing out that one of the hallmarks of our faith is that it makes us grow those characteristics in increasing measure, and often in ways which the world cannot match. Besides, we possess other very real distinctives such as holiness, godliness, redemption and transformation into Christ’s likeness, attributes for which atheists don’t even have a vocabulary, much less a rival claim.

Yet many of us believers are increasingly being swayed by this kind of criticism, to the point that we are forgetting what makes us distinct, what makes us salt and light in a dark world. Liberal Christians are quick to fall for this kind of deception, and where liberal Christians lead, those of us in the evangelical church who don’t know who we are in Christ may quickly follow.

The pearl of ignorance that plopped onto my screen this week was formed from the idea that Christians don’t have a monopoly on community. It followed a forum discussion of a BBC News article on an “atheist church“. Again, it is true in one sense that we don’t have a monopoly on community – you can see community taking place in any pub, sports team or special interest group in the land – but what followed truly astounded me, for some of those contributing to the discussion were convinced that God is among these atheists in their atheist “church” – and any other grouping of generally like-minded people – just as much as He is among committed Christians in a real church. One contributor was asked if that meant that God was also present amongst a gathering of Satanists. Her response? A firm and unequivocal “Yes.”

Surely being Christians must bring something else besides togetherness, or else what is there to differentiate us from atheists or any other group?

We really have to start questioning what kind of faith we are of if we claim that there is little to no difference between a gathering of pleasant but deeply anti-Christian people and a gathering of people who are there to worship and revere God.

If God is amongst Satanists, was He also present and blessing the sense of community felt by all of those fine, athletic and committed young German men and women who gathered to sing rousing patriotic songs, heard Adolf Hitler preach his message of hatred, and then put their hands to the locks on the doors of the gas chambers, or who marched young teenage boys in their thousands out onto the battlefield, never to return?

Is God amongst Islamic terrorists as they shout “Allahu Akbar!” (God is great!) and then strap on suicide bombs, before going out to shred the flesh from unsuspecting people’s bones in a high street or a station?

Is God so weak, so diluted in our thinking, that He cares not what we think of Him, as long as we’re having fun? And if people are being transformed by their experience of community, but not into the likeness of Jesus Christ, then what are they being transformed into? And how can that be good for us – in the sense of ultimate good; the kind that results from genuine salvation – since it would only be transformation into man’s image rather than God’s?

The truth is that Jesus says, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20) It is God’s special promise that He is willing and available to dwell amongst His people. He makes no such guarantees for those who hate Him.

When we gather as Christians, we should make sure that God is amongst us, if He was truly amongst us in the first place, for He says that He has judgment in store for those who honour God with their lips, but whose hearts are actually far from Him. (Isaiah 29:13) Many of us have adopted a faith that makes excuses for our sins: we go to church and claim to love Jesus, but it’s business as usual all week whilst we continue to do what we please rather than allowing God to bring us to repentance.

If we lose or forfeit our godliness – whether in our godly lives or in the presence of God with us – what would be left to show that we know Him?

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