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Tag: Matthew 24

Is God No Respecter of Persons?

In Acts 10, we find an interaction between Cornelius, a Roman soldier, and the Apostle Peter. When Cornelius and Peter first met, Cornelius, the Bible says, “fell down at his feet, and worshipped him.” Peter told Cornelius to get up, reminding him that he was just a man, not God. Their interaction drew a crowd, and not wanting to waste an opportunity to evangelize, Peter began to preach. In verse 34, Peter begins his sermon by saying, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.” Of course, Peter quickly qualifies his bold declaration of God’s non-preferential love for all by saying, “But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” Peter tells the crowd that God is no respecter of persons IF they fear him and live righteously. Talk about preaching works salvation!

The Message Bible version translates Acts 10:34-36 this way:

Peter fairly exploded with his good news: “It’s God’s own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from—if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open. The Message he sent to the children of Israel—that through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again—well, he’s doing it everywhere, among everyone.

“God plays no favorites,” The Message says. Really? God plays NO favorites? Does a thorough reading of the Bible really lead one to conclude that God plays no favorites; that he is no respecter of persons? I think not. While Peter modifies his statement, making it clear that God’s respect is conditional, modern Evangelical preachers have ripped “God is no respecter of persons” out of its context, telling saints and sinners alike that “God plays no favorites.” Jesus is an equal opportunity savior. However, as I shall presently demonstrate, God has always played favorites.

Any cursory reading of the Old Testament reveals that God’s favorite people were the Israelites. Called God’s chosen people, the Israelites received the preferential treatment from God when compared to the Canaanites and other population groups deemed heathen by the writers of the Bible.

This preferential treatment of Israel is carried over into the New Testament. Ask Evangelicals who it is Jesus came to earth to save, and they will proudly say, Jesus came to save everyone! However, actually reading the New Testament leads readers to a different conclusion: Jesus came to save the Jews, and it was only after they rejected him that Jesus decided to save the Gentiles — non-Jews. In fact, Jesus was quite bigoted when it came to non-Jews, and it wasn’t until the Apostle Paul entered the Christian narrative that Gentiles were considered savable and part of God’s redemptive plan.

That said, did Paul preach a gospel of universal salvation, irrespective of ethnicity or national identity? Again, I think not. Paul did say in Ephesians 6:9:

And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.

However, Paul says in other places that Jesus came to save only the elect — God’s chosen ones. In Ephesians 1:4, Paul states:

According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.

Paul’s writings are littered with statements about election and predestination; that God has a chosen people, and it is they alone whom Jesus saves. So much for God being no respecter of persons.

If God is the creator and every human living and dead owes their existence to him, why is it that God gives some people and countries preferential treatment? Why is the United States a Christian nation, but not Iran, Israel, India, or Japan? Why are there population groups who will live and die without hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ? Why is Christian salvation so dependent on geography? Shouldn’t Jesus be available to everyone, everywhere? Yet, most people live and die without embracing Peter or Paul’s gospels.

It’s clear, at least to me, that the Christian God is indeed a respecter of persons. Of course, said God does not exist, so what this means is that the writers of the Bible were the ones who played favorites; who gave their tribes preferential treatment. One need only look at Evangelical Christianity as a whole to see that Christian churches, pastors, and laypeople generally give preferential treatment to people based on everything from race to income level and beliefs to lifestyle. Christian churches remain the most segregated places in America. More than a few churches use demographics to target certain people for inclusion in their clubs. When is the last time you have seen a new church plant or a megachurch in a poor part of town or a community dominated by people of color? Not very often.

Years ago, I was the assistant pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye Lake, Ohio. I also worked for the village as a grant administrator and program manager. Buckeye Lake was a largely white community, with one of the highest rates of poverty and welfare per capita in Ohio.

Prior to starting Emmanuel Baptist, Buckeye Lake had a grand total of two churches for a population of almost 3,000. One church was Catholic, the other a community church that catered to people of means. Why didn’t Evangelical church planters flock to Buckeye Lake to reach the downtrodden with the gospel? You know the answer to that question — poor welfare recipients don’t make for good tithing church members.

When my father-in-law and I started Emmanuel Baptist in the early 1980s, Polly’s uncle, the late Jim Dennis, pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple — an affluent church in nearby Heath, Ohio — warned us that the church would never become self-sustaining. In other words, “don’t waste your time trying to build a church in Buckeye Lake.” And he was right. The church never became self-sustaining (for a variety of reasons). However, the Baptist Temple and other nearby well-off Evangelical churches could have financially supported the church, but they chose not to. Sour grapes on my part? Nope, just a statement of facts. Unlike my in-laws, who refused to move to the community they were pastoring in, Polly and I moved our young family to a shack of a home in Buckeye Lake so we could minister to the people where they were. (This was not a difficult move for me since I grew up in a poor home. Polly, on the other hand, had some difficulty adjusting to our “spacious” accommodations. I give her a lot of credit for adapting to circumstances that were very foreign to her.) We later left Buckeye Lake and started a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in Perry County — another poverty-stricken area.

Years ago, I started a nondenominational church in West Unity, Ohio. The congregation was made up of primarily working-class people. For many years, the church operated a food bank. One day, the phone rang and it was Creta Bennett, the wife of the pastor of nearby First Baptist Church in Bryan (a church I had attended as a youth). Creta told me about a woman from West Unity who had been attending First Baptist on and off. “Bruce, we think this woman would be a better fit for your church.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, but I agreed to visit the woman. People first, right? What I found was a mentally ill woman living in abject poverty. She indeed needed help, but evidently she wasn’t a good “fit” for First Baptist. We did what we could, but she only attended a few services, saying she wanted to attend church in Bryan. She wanted the church, but the church didn’t want her.

The fifty years I spent in the Christian church and the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry taught me that regardless of how God might view people, pastors and churches do, indeed, show preferential treatment.

The Bible is quite contradictory when it comes to God being a respecter of persons. However, when it comes to Christians giving preferential treatment, the Bible is clear: treat everyone equally. In James 2, the Apostle James makes it clear that churches and their leaders should treat everyone equally. James writes:

My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?

Evidently, this passage of Scripture is missing in many Bibles. And so is Matthew 24, a passage of Scripture that reminds Christians that their eternal destiny depends on how they treat the poor. Based on the behavior we see from Evangelicals today, will many of them make it to Heaven when they die? I doubt it.

Christian or atheist, it matters not. We are surrounded by people who are hurting and in need. We can talk endlessly about our love, kindness, and compassion towards others, but our behavior is the measure of our truthfulness. We have the power to lessen the hell many people face day-to-day; to bring a bit of heaven into their lives. The choice is ours.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Are We Living in the End Times?

evangelical end times
Cartoon by Pat Bagley

And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. (Matthew 24:3-14)

Two thousand years ago, Jesus was hanging out on the mount of Olives. While Jesus sat there, his disciples came to him with a question: what will be the signs of your return to earth and the end of world? While Jesus’s disciples believed that the end of the world was near, as we now know, it’s been twenty-one centuries since Jesus lived and died, with no end of the world in sight. Christians of every generation have looked to the eastern sky, believing that Jesus would return to earth, judge the living and the dead, destroy the heavens and the earth, and make all things new. While Christian eschatological beliefs have changed over time, one constant remains: the end of the world is nigh.

Unbelievers often laugh at and mock Christians who have end-times beliefs. Where is the promise of his coming? non-Christians rightly ask. Christians point unbelievers to 2 Peter 3:3-13:

Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.

Go ahead and mock, unbelievers, Christians say. Someday, you know, like real, real, real soon, Jesus is going to return to earth and make all things news. On that day, you will wish you were a Christian!

Evangelicals, in particular, see the end of the world as a vindication of sorts. Atheists, agnostics, pagans, and other nonbelievers sigh as Evangelicals prattle on and on about the rapture, the Tribulation, the second coming of Jesus, the millennium, etc. To unbelievers, such things are nonsense. And quite frankly, many Evangelicals believe these things to be absurd too. Oh, with their mouths they profess these things to be true, but how they live their lives tells another story. Evangelicals love their jobs, houses, lands, cars, and material goods as much as the rankest hedonist. Their lives testify to this truth: we really don’t believe that Jesus is coming back any time soon.

Within the broader Evangelical tent are sects, churches, and pastors who really believe that we are living in the end times; that the rapture/return of Christ is imminent. Such people can be found in the highest levels of government. Mike Pence is one such believer. Thinking people should fear True Christians®. It is not beyond them to politically and personally help usher in the end of the world. I used to think that religious beliefs for politicians didn’t matter. However, as I watch the Evangelicals in President Trump’s administration promote and initiate end time policies, I have changed my mind. When Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, millions of Evangelicals had orgasms. People who understand Evangelical eschatology, on the other hand, felt a sense of dread and impending doom. At the time I thought, oh my God, these religious nuts are going to drag us into WWIII, all because they believe a handful of Old Testament Bible verses command them to protect God’s chosen people — Israel — at all costs.

The current Coronavirus pandemic has Evangelicals wondering if it is a “sign” of the end of the world. I began this post with a quote from Matthew 24. Many Evangelicals believe that this passage of scripture is a list of the things that must come to pass before Jesus returns to earth. (and yes, I am quite versed in all the different ways Evangelicals interpret Matthew 24.)

One of the things mentioned is pestilences. Many Evangelicals believe that the current pandemic is a pestilence sent by God; a warning of impending judgment and the end of the world. Of course, Evangelicals have been saying the same thing about all sorts of world/regional events for as long as I can remember. I call this newspaper theology. Every time something bad happens on the world scene, Evangelicals wonder, is this it? Is this the end of the world? Is Jesus coming back today?

Such thinking, of course, leads to all sorts of irresponsible and dangerous behavior. In 1988, Evangelical NASA engineer Edgar Whisenant predicted that Jesus would return between September 1 and September 13. Whisenant wrote a small book titled, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988. This book was distributed free of charge to millions of Christians. Whisenant’s book caused such a stir in the church I was pastoring at the time, I had to preach several sermons condemning 88 Reasons. My preached proved futile. The Sunday before the supposed rapture, the church house was filled with people. There was a buzz in the air. I know all of this sounds crazy to non-believers, but make no mistake, people really believed that the return of Jesus was imminent.

Of course, here we are thirty plus years later — no Jesus. There’s not much any of us can do to stop such mania, outside of keeping Evangelicals away from the reins of power and access to the nuclear codes. While President Trump is not, in any appreciable way, a Christian, he is aware that it is white Evangelicals who put him in office. Being the narcissistic political animal that he is, Trump is willing to give Evangelicals virtually everything they want if it means he gets to keep the keys to the kingdom. Some Evangelicals are clamoring for the suspension or cancellation of the November election. In their minds, keeping Trump — God’s chosen leader for the United States — in power is more important than anything, including the Constitution. Scary, I know, but when you think Trump is a modern-day King Cyrus, anything is possible.

Rational people know that Jesus is not coming back to earth. His bleached bones lie buried somewhere on a Judean hillside. What should alarm us is that millions and millions of people believe otherwise; that Jesus was crucified, resurrected from the dead, and returned to Heaven to await the day when his Father tells him to return to earth. These True Christians® are an existential threat, one that threatens to destroy the world. It is in everyone’s best interest that such people are marginalized. It’s time that rational people stop playing nice with believers who have apocalyptic ambitions. When your Evangelical friends on Facebook talk about the Coronavirus pandemic being a sign of the end times, please take them seriously. Many religious beliefs are harmless, cute relics of past human history. However, reading the news and interpreting it in light of the Bible is NOT harmless. People who read the news this way are dangerous, and when gathered together as a religious tribe, they can cause untold heartache and harm. We ignore them at our own peril.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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The Sounds of Fundamentalism: Mark Biltz Says the Antichrist Might be a Human Cyborg

mark blitz

This is the one hundred and ninety-third installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section.  Let’s have some fun!

Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a video clip of Christian Fundamentalist Mark Biltz, pastor of El Shaddai Ministries in Tacoma Washington, stoking hysteria over artificial intelligence. Blitz says the Antichrist might be a human cyborg.  Of course, Biltz has a book to sell. He mentions his “must read” book several times, as does fellow con-man Jim Bakker.

Video Link