Myth or Fact?

Aren’t all churches basically the same?
Myth.  Churches differ in traditions and customs.  But the real differences are a matter of what is taught and practiced.  For example, some churches teach that people are basically good by nature.  We are one of the churches that teach that people are sinful by nature.  Both ideas can’t be true.  Someone is wrong, someone is right.  Now even some casual observation of the human nature reveals that people are essentially sinful.  From the time that children are little they exhibit blatant selfishness and all other kinds of nasty character traits.  Parents have to teach children not to whine and complain, throw fits when they don’t get their way, share, be polite, respect what belongs to others, be responsible, etc.  An honest answer to the question: “Which comes more easily and naturally- doing the right thing or doing the wrong thing?” leaves no doubt that this idea that people are by nature good is silly.  But the definitive answer to this question comes from God himself through David who said, “Surely I have been a sinner from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5)

Or take the matter of salvation.  Some churches teach that that people get to heaven by being good and doing good things.  Other churches, ours included, teach that no one can be good enough to get to heaven because God insists that we be like him- holy.  Our human experience bears out the latter.  We have consciences which, if we let them do their job, accuse us of not being good enough.  People facing death especially experience this, when their consciences often bother them and make them afraid to die and stand before God for judgment.  It is no wonder that God says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  So what do churches like ours teach about getting to heaven?  The Bible tells us that “God loved us and sent his Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)  Jesus himself said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)   Now we either get to heaven through faith in Jesus or we get to heaven on our own, but both ideas can’t be true.  They are mutually exclusive of each other.

So all churches clearly are not the same.  It is worth the time and effort to find a church that teaches what the Bible teaches and that is faithful to the revealed truth from God.

Some believe that Jesus is the Savior of mankind.  Others believe that he was just a man- although one of the greatest men who ever lived.  It doesn’t matter as long as we can agree that Jesus taught us all a better way to live.
Myth.  The central teaching of Christianity is the necessity of Jesus’ suffering and death in our place on the cross so we could be forgiven of our sins.  If all we need is someone to show us a better way to live then the cross is irrelevant.  Believing that Jesus is the Savior of mankind means believing that we need more than a great role model- we need a Savior!  For our problem is not that we need to be shown how to live, our problem is that we have not lived the way we know we should!

Jesus himself said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)   He said in John 3:17-18, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. “  Jesus not only claimed to be the world’s Savior, he declared that every person’s eternal fate hangs on whether a person believes in Jesus or not.  The question, “Was Jesus just a man or was he God in human flesh, sent to be the Savior of all people?” DOES  matter.  And the Bible leaves no doubt as to the correct answer.  It pictures Jesus speaking, acting, and living like God.  Claiming to be God.  Doing things only God can do.  To reject the identity of Jesus as God and Savior is to reject the message of the Bible.  A careful reading of the New Testament will reveal, for our great comfort and security, how consistently the Bible teaches that Jesus is God and Savior.

Can church really benefit me?  I mean, I can’t see how going is going to change the problems in my life.  And the last thing I need is to be told I should be doing this or that when I already feel guilty enough.
It is a myth to think that “church” as an activity will change anything.  But what God gives us at church- now that does make a difference!  Going to church doesn’t magically take away our problems.  But it does give us a wonderful foundation from which to cope with problems- and we all have problems!  At church we hear that God loves us.  That he is on our side.  That he proved that by sending his Son to be our Savior.  We hear that God has promised to take us to heaven.  That he will bear our burdens for us.  That he will work out everything in our lives for our ultimate good, and that he will never abandon us.  That makes a difference in how we cope with the difficulties of life.  That’s a fact!  Those Biblical truths we just mentioned give us peace, hope, encouragement, strength, and comfort.  They allow us to say with David in Psalm 27:1 “The Lord is my Light and my Salvation; whom shall I fear?”

As for the fear of being made to feel guilty at church, well, sad to say, people do experience that at some churches where the message is pretty much “Here are God’s rules.  Keep them or else.”  But God doesn’t want to be viewed as essentially an angry law-giver, shaking his finger at us.  God is pleased when churches are a place where guilty people find relief and comfort!   Does this sound like a message that would make us feel even worse than we already do?   “Therefore, since we have been justified (declared not guilty of sin) through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, [2] through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. “ (Romans 5;1,2)  God wants to give us peace in knowing he loves us and our sins are forgiven.  He wants to give us hope- which Biblically defined is certain expectation, not mere wishfulness- that we will live forever with him in heaven.  That’s good news that makes a difference.  Churches that are faithful to the Bible will put this good news at the center of all they say and do!

It seems to me that a lot of people who go to church are hypocrites.
That sort of depends on how you define “a lot”.  It is easy to stereotype entire groups because of the obnoxious actions of a few- such as when we label professional athletes as whiners and prima donnas based on the actions of a highly visible minority.  But is it a fact that there are hypocrites at church?  You bet!  Of course, where aren’t there hypocrites- people who pretend to be something they are not or people who judge everyone but themselves?  If we were to boycott every place or group where there were hypocrites, we wouldn’t go to school or work, we wouldn’t patronize many businesses, we’d renounce our citizenship, and we would disown our extended family!  Oh- and if being a hypocrite is being fake, is there anyone who is never fake, but always genuine and sincere?

The key question is this: “Does the fact that there are hypocrites in the church mean that the problem is with the church or rather with the hypocrites themselves?”   Jesus condemned hypocrites and hypocrisy no less than 19 times in the gospels.  I don’t think that Jesus would be happy with the church as a hypocrite factory churning out insincere people who look down on others.

I can only speak for our church, but we don’t talk about sin as the problem of non-members or non-Christians.  We talk it about it as OUR problem.  We even confess our sins publicly in our worship service because that is being real; and because there is good news for people who own up to their faults and shortcomings and are sorry for their sins- namely, that God mercifully and completely forgives us for the sake of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Does God really forgive all sins?  Even big bad sins from my past that still haunt me, or those frustrating habitual sins that I can’t seem to overcome?
Fact.  God really does forgive all sins.  “The blood of Jesus Christ, his (God’s) Son, purifies us from every sin.” (1 John 1:7)  Right before Jesus died on the cross, he said, “It is finished.” ((John 19:30)   All sins had been paid for.  There is no longer any punishment left for any of your sins or mine.  Don’t worry if you don’t always feel forgiven.  What matters is if God says you are forgiven.  And that is exactly what he says!

If there is a God, he can’t care much about us if he lets bad things happen to good people and if he lets evil people prosper.
It sure seems that way, I will grant that.  But we have to back up just a little.  By what definition is a person good or evil?  The Bible, for example, says that “There is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:12)  That is because God’s definition of good is “perfect.”  God is perfect or holy and that is what he wants us to be.  Since the Bible says that  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), none of us deserves anything good from God based on how good we have been.  We have all failed God.  God owes us nothing.  In fact, if he was fair, he would completely abandon us in this life and then let us spend eternity in hell.  So, in a very real sense, it is artificial to talk about “good” people deserving better, and “evil” people deserving worse, when all of us sin.

However, there is still the thorny issue of a good God, so good that he loves all sinful people, letting evil happen to us.  If God is good and loving how could he let a baby die at birth, or a young mom get cancer, or a bright and active teenage become a quadrapalegic after a car accident?

Some answer that question by asserting that God is not really in control of events.  He is not actively involved in what happens here so he cannot be blamed for evil.  However, that is not the picture of God from the Bible.  The Bible tells us that God is sovereign- that he does have control over what happens and what does not happen.  “Are you not the God who is in heaven?  You rule over the kingdoms of the nations.  Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you.” (Psalm 10:16, 22:28)   Beyond that, the Bible tells us “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)   So how do we reconcile God’s goodness and love with his sovereignty when tragedy strikes and we cannot see his love or any kind of good?

At times like that we look to the cross.  The suffering and death of God’s Son on the cross was not a chance event.  God orchestrated it.  The believers in the early church in Jerusalem confessed this truth in a prayer to God in which they said, “ Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.”  (Acts 4:27,28)  Peter, speaking to a crowd of people at Jerusalem, said that Jesus “was handed over to you  by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to a cross.  But God raised him from the dead…” (Acts 2:23,24)  Why did God himself direct events so that his Son would suffer and die for sins he had not committed?  Would you, as a parent, orchestrate events to make sure your only child suffered horribly and died in place of the real criminal- whose very crimes were against you?  That’s what God did for us- whose crimes are our daily sins against him.  How much God must love us that he would do that for us!  That he would direct history itself to that day 2,000 years ago when he crushed and abandoned his Son for our sins so that we could live with him forever!

The cross gives us a reason to trust God’s love and power at work in our lives even in tragedy.  For the cross proves that God loves us.   It proves that his deepest desire all along was to do us good, not harm.  It proves that the God who was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for our salvation, cannot be the kind of God who allows evil into our lives for no good reason.  The cross alone gives us a way to cope with what is seemingly only evil, in the trust that a loving God will bring good from it just as he promises.

Can infants really believe?  
Fact.  The Bible is clear on this.  Jesus referred to certain small children as “Little ones who believe in me” (Matthew 18:6).  When children were shouting statements of praise about Jesus and Jesus was criticized for accepting that praise he replied, “Have you never read, ” ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?”

This is one of the reasons why we, in the Lutheran church, baptize infants.  But there are other reasons.  The Bible tells us that infants need salvation, for they are born sinful.  David admitted that in Psalm 51:5:  “Surely I have been a sinner from birth; sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”  Since “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), we want our little children to have the gift of eternal salvation.

God says he offers that gift through baptism.  “Baptism now saves you,” Peter reminds us in his first epistle (1 Peter 3:21).  Peter also invited the crowd in Jerusalem who was listening to his sermon to “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.”  (Acts 2:38,39)   God makes it clear that forgiveness of sins is given in baptism, as well as the Holy Spirit who gives us the gift of faith (1 Corinthians 12:3).  Peter refers to baptism as essentially a promise from God- the promise of salvation.

So if infants need salvation through the forgiveness of sins, and baptism offers that; and if the Holy Spirit is given, who gives the gift of faith, and the Bible tells us that even infants can believe; and if God specifically says that the promise of salvation given in baptism is not just for adults but also for our children, then who are we to conclude that baptism doesn’t do anything for a baby who lacks the intellect that would seem to be necessary for faith?  Because we trust God’s word more than our human thinking, and don’t think that it is ever a good idea to disagree with God, and because we love our children and want them to be saved, we baptize infants and believe they can believe.