Monday, March 30, 2015

Pray for the 2015 Ordinary Synod on the Family

An actual photo of the 70,000 witnesses of the Miracle of the Sun in Fatima Portugal
October 13, 1917

On the 13th day, of May through October of 1917, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children in Fatima Portugal. Visions of the future were given to them, along with dire warnings, instructions and a promise. The warnings centred around the trials of the 20th century, an upcoming Second World War,
Painting of Our Lady of Fatima
Artist Unknown
the rise of communist Russia, the persecution of Christians, the loss of Christian faith in the industrialised world, suffering for the pope, and a form of sexual 'liberation' that would send many souls to hell. It is one of the few Marian apparitions that the Vatican itself has confirmed as authentic, and it has been acknowledged by every pope in recent memory.

There is a strong connection between the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal and Our Lady of Lourdes in France fifty-nine years earlier. The connection centres around the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. In Lourdes the dogma was revealed by Mary to a peasant girl. In Fatima, Mary promised the three shepherd children, that in the end, her Immaculate Heart (i.e. her Immaculate Conception) will prevail. I cannot help but see a strong connection here, but what it means I cannot say. I live in a country dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. Is there an American connection to all of this? Again, I don't know, so I cannot say.

On October 13, 2014, ninety-seven years to the day, after the miracle of the sun at Fatima, witnessed by some 70,000 people, something remarkable happened at the Vatican in Rome. A controversial but non-binding document was issued by the coordinators of the 2014 Extraordinary Synod on the Family, in which traditional Church discipline (and to a lesser extent, doctrine itself) was questioned regarding the sacrament of marriage, and human sexuality in general. I will not comment on the final document here, but rather simply quote the most controversial statements. From Synod 14: Relatio post disceptationem...
 46.        Likewise, those who are divorced and remarried require careful discernment and an accompaniment of great respect, while avoiding any language or behavior which might be construed as discrimination. Caring for such persons by the Christian community is not a weakening of its faith and its witness to the indissolubility of marriage, but, in this manner, the community precisely expresses its charity.
 47.        As to the possibility of partaking of the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, some synod fathers argued in favour of the present regulations because of their theological foundation, while others were in favour of a broader outlook with well-defined conditions, when dealing with situations that cannot be resolved without creating new injustices and suffering. For some, access to the sacraments might take place if preceded by a penitential practice — determined by the diocesan bishop —  and  a clear commitment in favour of the children. This would not be a possibility applied to all, but the fruit of a discernment [...] on a case-by-case basis, according to the law of gradualness, which takes into consideration the distinction between a state of sin, the state of grace and [...] extenuating circumstances.
 48.        The suggestion of limiting these persons to the practice of “spiritual communion” was questioned by many synod fathers. If spiritual communion is possible, why not allow them to partake in the Sacrament? Consequently, greater theological study was requested, beginning with the links between the Sacrament of Marriage and the Eucharist in relation to [...] Church-Sacrament. Likewise, the moral aspect of the problem requires further consideration, listening to and illuminating the consciences of these persons.
50.        Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community. Are we capable of providing for these people, guaranteeing [...] them [...] a place of fellowship in our communities? Oftentimes, they want to encounter a Church which offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of this, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?
source  
I will not comment on the above paragraphs here, because there is no point. The document is non-binding and simply outlines the matters to be discussed in the upcoming Ordinary Synod on the Family in October of 2015. All I will say about the document is this. It caused a lot of controversy and confusion. There were
Painting of Our Lady of Lourdes
Artist Unknown
some scandals surrounding the original version of it (not shown here) in which a pre-manufactured version was translated, printed and distributed to the press long before the bishops participating in the synod themselves received a copy of it. The mainstream press inaccurately reported on it (as usual) giving people the false impression that Rome is about to make major doctrinal changes. (There is no evidence of this by the way.) The initial document was revised and the final document is merely a work in progress that is going to be taken up in the next synod. As I said, it's a work in progress. It is NOT binding on any Catholic in the entire worldwide Catholic Church.

This historical fact that the original document, that caused so much confusion, was released to the press on October 13, 2014 is no coincidence in my book. As the rabbis say, 'Coincidence is not a kosher word'. I see a direct spiritual connection between what happened in Rome on October 13, 2014 and what happened in Fatima on October 13, 1917.

Immediately following the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, I published two essays on this blog which became very controversial in themselves. They can be read here and here. After listening to many of my Catholic friends (both traditional and non-traditional) float the idea that this pope may be an antipope, I politely rebuked such assertions here. Any bishop or ordinary reading this should be advised that despite the controversial nature of my blog essays on this matter, they were in response (and in educational rebuke) of significantly more controversial statements made by people under their pastoral care. These statements have been ongoing since the Extraordinary Synod. I could not stand idle and let others refer to the Holy Father as an antipope. I had to speak out. That being said, even though some priests liked my essays and thought they were timely and appropriate, I have been politely asked by multiple priests now to refrain from such controversial essays in the future. In response to them, I have this to say...
Thank you for your advice and concern. I think I've said pretty much everything that needs to be said, and I have no intention of going any further. I tried to help. If people under your pastoral care want to believe that our Holy Father is an antipope, I'll leave it up to you to correct. Please know it may be going on right underneath your nose, and please know that they probably won't come to you with it. They are more likely to let this error fester and then finally just disappear from mass someday, only to turn up in some kind of schismatic group. You also might be surprised to find that some of these people are not what you would consider 'traditionalists' but are actually regular Catholics who attend the regular Novus Ordo mass. So being proactive on this matter might be prudent. It has been my experience that when such errors are left unattended, they tend to spread like a virus and infect more people. If you are so inclined, you are welcome to use any of my previous writings (especially this one) as material to help you correct this egregious and uncharitable error. I wish you the best of luck and my prayers are with you.
Now as we approach the upcoming 2015 Ordinary Synod on the Family, the rumour mills are going into overdrive. The blogs are becoming more active. Catholic media is publishing all kinds of controversial articles. Bishops are speaking out against bishops, and cardinals are speaking out against cardinals. The entire bishops conference in Poland has pledged to resist the entire bishops conference in Germany. The African bishops have pledged to resist anyone who presents unorthodox doctrine or practice. Over 500 priests in England have just sent an open letter to the participants in the upcoming synod, requesting that they maintain traditional orthodoxy and practice. The 'chatter' is picking up, and despite pleas from the Holy Father and various bishops, this is not going to stop. There is nothing I can do or say here that will change this. It is what it is, and it's only going to get worse in the days ahead. By the time we reach October of 2015, I expect the atmosphere to be so tense that one could 'palpate' the general feeling of unease and anxiety. Some have speculated that we may be witnessing the beginning of the next German schism -- a second 'Reformation' event. There is no way to know this will happen, but one thing is certain. The German bishops appear to be the primary force driving controversial change in the Church, and have openly said, they will go ahead with it anyway, in spite of what is decided at the synod.

Honestly, I really don't know what is about to happen. I only know one thing. At this point, I am powerless to do anything about it. Following the last synod, I've already said everything that needs to be said. I have nothing more to add. You can read those articles I linked to above. From now on, this blog will maintain a proverbial 'radio silence' on all issues related to the 2015 Ordinary Synod on the Family. From now on, for the next six months leading up to the synod, this blogger will follow the instructions and requests of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome. This blogger will pray, and this blogger will request the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the titles of Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Lourdes, and the Immaculate Conception, asking for the Holy Spirit to guide the bishops at the October 2015 Ordinary Synod on the Family. This blogger will maintain 'radio silence' during the synod and after, until some time after Easter of 2016. By this time the Ordinary Synod on the Family will no longer be a 'current event' but rather a matter of history, and this blogger does better commenting on historical events, long after emotions concerning such events have had time to cool off.

I invite all of my readers to do the same. Please join me in praying to the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the titles of Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Lourdes and the Immaculate Conception. Let us ask her to intercede for us, and request the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit of God into the 2015 Synod on the Family. Likewise, let us also request of her to ask for the Holy Spirit of God to guide our pope during the synod and in the days to follow. He has a very difficult job and he can use all the divine intervention he can get.

END.

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Shane Schaetzel is a published author and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'

BOOKS BY THIS AUTHOR...
Catholicism for Protestants

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Pope Francis and the Blood of Saint Januarius

Martyrdom of Saint Januarius
painted by Girolamo Pesce
in circa 1726
Saint Januarius was a Catholic bishop of Naples (in Italy) who was martyred for being a Christian under the reign of Caesar Diocletian in about AD 305. He was beheaded at the Solfatara crater near Pozzuoli. His martyrdom is honoured in both the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox churches. There is a cathedral in Naples which stands as a shrine in his memory, housing the relic of a small vial filled with some of his blood. According to legend, the blood was saved by a woman named Eusebia just after the saint's death. The blood, being some 1,700 years old now, has long since hardened. However, three times a year, a phenomenon occurs, in which the clotted and decayed blood returns to its liquid state.  This happens on September 19 (Saint Januarius day, to commemorate his martyrdom), on December 16 (to celebrate his patronage of both Naples and of the archdiocese), and on the Saturday before the first Sunday of May (to commemorate the reunification of his relics). Religious pilgrims often visit the shrine on these dates to witness the phenomenon.

I call it a phenomenon, as opposed to a miracle, because the Vatican has never officially ruled it a miracle, though it does pay respect to the phenomenon and the devotion that has developed because of it.

In addition to these annual dates, the blood has also turned to liquid in the presence of three popes. The last time this occurred was in 1848 with Pius IX. It hasn't happened since, when other popes visited the shrine, until now. Pope Francis visited the cathedral on March 21, 2015. The following video tells of the encounter and the phenomenon...


Now, before we go on, let's be perfectly clear about some things. First, Pope Francis did not perform any miracle. He had no intention of turning the clotted blood back into liquid. He simply venerated the relic by kissing it, a sign of deep devotion and respect. Second, if indeed the phenomenon is miraculous, then it was God who performed the miracle, by the intercession of Saint Januarius. Again, Pope Francis did not do it. Third, whether it is a miracle or a phenomenon, God can use either to send us a message.

A photograph of Pope Pius IX
To try to find meaning in this, we should look back to when this happened with the last pope. Remember, popes have visited this shrine since then, and the blood has not liquefied for any of them. It did however liquefy for Pope Francis. This hasn't happened in 167 years. The last time this happened with a pope was in 1848 with Pope Pius IX, who was the longest reigning pope in Church history. Pius IX however, is also one of the most interesting popes in modern times. Following his visit to Naples in 1848, after the clotted blood of Saint Januarius had liquefied, that very same year Pope Pius IX was forced into exile from the Vatican. The exile was the result of political disputes and social unrest in Italy at the time. He returned to the Vatican two years later and from thence forth practically became a prisoner therein. Relations between the papacy and the Italian government where at an all time low, and the era was marked by riots in the streets and marauding gangs in the countryside. It was an especially dark time for the papacy, but Pius IX found himself purified in this crucible of fire.  He proclaimed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception infallibly, which is something Catholics had always believed, but hadn't been settled as an indisputable matter of faith until his proclamation. He approved a petition to name Mary, as the Immaculate Conception, the official patroness of the United States of America. He penned 38 papal encyclicals, and convened the First Vatican Council. He wrote the now famous 'Syllabus of Errors', which condemned the errors of Modernism, errors that have since led humanity into two world wars, and a global confrontation with communism, as well as the rapid deterioration of Western civilisation. During this time, Pope Pius IX was well known for a personal lifestyle of simplicity and poverty, which has since led the papacy to increasingly become a more spiritual office, and less of a temporal one. Pius IX's papacy is regarded by historians as the birth of the modern papacy, restoring the office to something closer to what it once was at the time of the apostles and the early centuries of the Church. Politically, Pius IX started out as a liberal, but later became much more conservative, after his initial exile from the Vatican. He became a reformer of the papacy and the Vatican. The spiritual aspects of Catholicism flourished under his reign, but the political relations between the papacy and the state suffered terribly. Pius IX was not well liked by the political rulers of his day; Italy, France, Germany, Russia and the United States of America. (Yes, even President Abraham Lincoln did not care for him, nor did his successor President Andrew Johnson.) Yet he was loved by Catholic clergy and laymen around the world.

Does this in any way sound like Pope Francis? I can see some similarities between Francis and the early years of Pius IX, during the liberal years of his papacy. Like Pius IX, Francis considers himself a reformer of the Vatican and seeks to reignite zeal among the Catholic faithful. The liquefaction of the blood of Saint Januarius for Pope Pius IX was immediately followed by unprecedented political trials for the Holy Father. This was accompanied by changes in his papacy, and the result was an incredibly holy man who changed the papacy for the better, and reignited the faith of millions of Catholics around the world. Does God have something similar planned for Pope Francis? Is the liquefaction of the blood of Saint Januarius at the kiss of Pope Francis a sign of this? There is no way we can know at this time. What we do know is that the liquefaction of the blood for the last pope turned out to be both a harbinger of evil and a herald of greatness at the same time. Does God use phenomenon like this to tell us something? Sure he does. We see the Bible littered with such things. The only problem is, we don't know exactly what it means until after it happens. For now, we can view the phenomenon of the liquefaction of Saint Janaurius' blood for Pope Francis as a possible sign from heaven, and that's all we can do. As for what it means, if anything, we'll just have to wait and see.

END.

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

Shane Schaetzel is a published author and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'

BOOKS BY THIS AUTHOR...
Catholicism for Protestants


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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Jesus Christ Opposes Sin

Christ Driving the Money Changers out of the Temple
Painted by Valentin de Boulogne in 1618

It's something our Secularist culture seems to have forgotten. Jesus didn't come to earth and die on a cross just to teach us how to 'be nice.' Though being kind and charitable is certainly part of the Christian gospel, it is not the central part. Lot's of religions teach niceness. If the gospel of Jesus Christ was just about being kind to our neighbours, we could argue that being a Buddhist will make you a better Christian. In fact, why need Christianity at all? Buddhism seems to have 'being nice' pegged all by itself. We could point to other religions that do the same. Perhaps this is the reason why so many people in our Secular world today think that 'all religions lead to the same place.' Indeed, if being nice is all there really is to religion, then we could probably make that argument validly. However, if being nice is really all Jesus set out to teach us, then he certainly had a funny way of showing it.
Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, ‘It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer”; but you are making it a den of robbers.’  
-- Matthew 21:12-13
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables.  Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.  He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’  His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ 
-- John 2:13-17 
Of all the sins Jesus took greatest offence to, it was sin of religious hypocrisy. In the temple worship of that time, a system of 'money changing' was developed, wherein Roman coins (the standard currency) were exchanged for temple coinage (which did not bear blasphemous images) to be used for buying sacrificial animals. The process itself seems harmless enough, except that the 'money changers' needed to be paid too. After all, they had a living to make. Right? So they took a small percentage of the money they changed as their fee. The only problem with that is that in the process, the poor were not being treated fairly. The poor, who could barely afford to buy a sacrifice in the first place, were left with less money every time it was 'changed' in the temple. What we have here is the sin of greed taking over the currency exchange system in the temple. The whole thing was a racket anyway, because temple coinage couldn't be used anywhere except in the temple. It would have to be changed back into Roman coinage before leaving the holy site anyway, if for example, you wanted to buy anything in the general market. So the system was unnecessary, and only served the purpose of providing a means to people to make money off religion. Jews had to sacrifice as a matter of religious obligation, so it wasn't like they had any choice in this matter. They had to go through the currency exchange ritual, and every time they did it, they were defrauded a little. Jesus despised this. But then, lots of people hated it as well. Still, nobody made a whip, overturned the tables, and drove the money-changers out. What Jesus did, was a first. It was radical and it was violent. Most of all, it wasn't very nice. Jesus did this for two reasons. The first is that is was sinful to sell religion this way. People coming to the temple to make sacrifices were trying to repent of their sins. The last thing they needed was to go through a banking process of exchanging currency, and then having to buy animals approved by the priest. Why couldn't they just bring their own animals? Or buy animals in the marketplace, where regular Roman coins could be used? Again, the whole thing was a racket. The second reason is that Jesus himself had every reason to take this all personally. You see, it's one thing for people like you and I to get offended at such practises, but we're unlikely to take it personally, to the point of cracking a whip, frightening people, and tearing up private property. That, however, is exactly what not-so-nice Jesus did. Why did he do it? Simple. He did it because it was HIS house! You see, the central teaching of the Christian religion, indeed the teaching that makes Christianity what it is, is the teaching that Jesus Christ is God! That's right. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is none other than God Almighty in human flesh.

You remember God right? You know, the fire and brimstone God that brought the Hebrews out of Egypt by destroying Egyptians crops and livestock, inflicting plagues and pestilence, and finally smiting the first born son of every Egyptian household? Yeah, that God. Remember him? Well you see, according to Christian belief, that God of the Hebrews became a Hebrew himself, and his name is Jesus of Nazareth. This is something the modern Secularist world seems to have totally forgotten. So you see, this Hebrew God, who ordered the creation of the Jewish sacrificial system, along with the temple that would house it, was now walking into this temple as a man. He was greatly offended by how people were treating HIS house. He wanted his house to be a place where sinners could come and repent. Instead those repentant sinners were being hindered by a bunch of legalistic nonsense that he never ordered and was clearly a racket. So just like any of us would do with intruders that turned our own personal homes into a marketplace for their own gain, Jesus cracked the whip, overturned their tables, and drove them out! No, he wasn't very nice about it. In fact, he was actually pretty rude. However, he had every right to be, because he is God, and this was HIS house. People had turned it into a circus. He had every right to be rude.

There is a lesson in all of this, and it reminds us of something about the character of Jesus Christ and those who follow him. We have to remember that lots of religions recognise many of the teachings of Jesus Christ. However, only one religion recognises his claim that he is God. That is Christianity. When we understand that Jesus Christ is Yahweh, the same God who flooded the earth at the time of Noah, and destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah at the time of Abraham, only then do we truly begin to understand the magnitude of Jesus' teaching and his death on the cross.

You see, if we look at the Old Testament, we see a clear pattern in the way the Hebrew God -- Yahweh -- deals with his people. While to our modern Western ears, many of the things he commands sound cruel, they are actually laced with mercy. The Hebrew God of the Old Testament -- Yahweh -- wanted something more than anything else. He wanted his people to repent of their sins. He didn't want to destroy them. He hated to punish them. Chastisement was something we warned them about, over and over again, practically begging them to change their wicked ways. Yet, when they failed to do it, he allowed terrible things to happen to them. From this we learn that Yahweh wept for his people -- the Hebrews -- whenever they did not repent, and he did not like to chastise them. Again, we learn from the earliest stories of the Old Testament, that Yahweh was slow to judge, giving people as much time as possible to repent, sending warnings along the way. At the time of Noah, he waited until the last minute, until there were no righteous people left on earth, besides Noah and his family. At the time of Abraham, God assured the patriarch that he would not destroy the city, if he could find only ten righteous people in the whole thing. When he could not, God had his angels evacuate the last remaining good people from the city, before destroying it. What sounds cruel to our modern Western ears, is actually a story of patience and long-suffering to ancient Semitic ears. This is the real character of Yahweh, and it is this character he fully revealed to us by becoming incarnate as the man Jesus of Nazareth.

The story of the New Testament is the same story of a God who is patient and long-suffering. In other words, he puts up with a lot of crap, especially from his own people. He endures their pride, arrogance, abuse of the religion he created for them, and ultimately, he endures their slander, torture and murder at the hands of those they manipulated (the Romans). Why did he do this though? I mean, why would God allow himself to be beaten and put to death? By his own chosen people no less!?! I'll tell you why. He did it because he wanted to forgive them, and in order to do this, he needed to provide a means for them to be forgiven.

You see, the fact that Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross further demonstrates that he is the same God who ordered the sacrifices of animals in the temple. The sacrifices of animals was designed to foreshadow his own sacrifice. For God had told his people throughout the Old Testament (particularly the Torah) that without the shedding of blood, there would be no remission of sins. Again, this was a foreshadowing, because with these animal sacrifices, a lesson was to be taught. It was not the animal's blood that forgave sins, but rather the blood of another. The animal sacrifices were only a symbol, a foreshadow of a blood letting that would come later, which really would forgive their sins. That blood was none other than the blood of God Almighty himself. The One to whom sacrifices were made, came to earth and took on the form of human flesh, so that he himself could become the ultimate sacrifice.

God hates sin. Man commits sin. God loves man, but the penalty for sin is death. So how does God save man from the penalty of his own sin? Simple, God allows man to kill him. The penalty is paid. God paid it for man. Now man can be forgiven.

It's a radical concept really, but one that elevates Christian religion far above the ancient concepts of animal sacrifices and the modern notions of just being nice. It gives a depth and meaning to the Christian faith that exceeds the expectations of your typical religion. Man's own barbarism, combined with the generosity of God, becomes the vehicle of our own redemption. God saves man by allowing man to kill him. It's a humbling thought really, both terrifying and wondrous at the same time, which highlights both the cruelty of man and the generosity of God simultaneously. Therefore, Christians are called to something much higher than just being nice. Christians are called to be holy, by putting away our sinful (selfish) attitudes, and live for the betterment of others. This in turn leads to the betterment of ourselves. God, through Jesus Christ, becomes our ultimate example of self giving. If we want to follow him, we must in every way we can, try to imitate him.

All of this is lost though, if we dismiss the concept of sin itself. If we say there is no sin at all, then we make God a liar, and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ absolutely meaningless. Remember, according to Christian belief, Jesus Christ is Yahweh. He's the same God who gave us the Ten Commandments, and told us that killing babies is sin, as well as adultery, fornication and sodomy (homosexual acts). Sin by definition is anything that displeases God, and God alone is the only one with the authority to define sin. Human beings don't have this authority. I cannot decide for myself what is sin, for if I could, I would make sure that nothing I do is considered sinful. You would do the same. So would anyone, including rapists and murderers. In very short order, everyone would do what is right in their own eyes, and the whole concept of sin would become relative and meaningless. It seems that modern Secularist culture, having forgotten that Jesus is Yahweh, would like us all to believe that the concept of sin is relative and meaningless. The new Secularist 'gospel' is to be nice, and make sure nobody's feelings get hurt. Thus anything that might hurt another's feelings is the new definition of 'sin' according to the new Secular 'gospel'. Under this new 'gospel' sodomy (homosexual acts) are not sin, but rather any criticism of them are, because it might hurt somebody's feelings. The same could apply to fornication and adultery as well.

'What would Jesus do?' That's the common saying people like to throw around these days. Obviously, anyone familiar with the gospels knows that cracking a whip, overturning tables, and frightening the daylights out of people, is not beyond the realm of possibilities. We would expect this from the God who terrified his people at Sinai (Exodus 20:18-20). So immediately, anyone familiar with the gospels should know that being nice isn't always the correct answer. Jesus is Yahweh, and Yahweh opposed sin. At the same time Yahweh preferred that people repent, and Jesus (who is Yahweh) wanted the same thing. There are two instances in the New Testament that shed light on 'what would Jesus do?" when it comes to the issue of the popular sins of our time. In John 5:1-15 we learn about the invalid that Jesus healed at the Pool of Bethesda. Sometime later, Jesus found the man again, and said to him: 'See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you' (John 5:14). Then in John 8:3-11, after Jesus had driven away all the accusers of the woman caught in the act of adultery, Jesus said to her: 'Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again' (John 8:14). The Apostle John is teaching us something here. He's teaching us that while Jesus has the power to forgive sin, he also chooses not to redefine it. He doesn't say: 'Don't worry, it's not sin any more, I've changed my mind. Go back to what you were doing.' Rather, he says: 'I forgive you of the sin you committed, now go and don't do it again.' This is huge distinction, because the Secular world would have us believe that Jesus redefined sin, but the plain teaching of the gospel says that he didn't redefine anything. Rather he just chose to forgive, and tell people to stop doing it. In other words, the central teaching of the gospel is that Jesus came to forgive our sins, not condone them.

You see, Jesus reminded the religious leaders of his day that he did not come to abolish the Law of Moses, but rather to fulfil it totally in his own life (Matthew 5:17).  You see, only Jesus could do that, because he is Yahweh, the Law Giver himself (2nd Timothy 3:16). In saying to those whom he forgave: 'go and sin no more', he wasn't telling them to live a life of perfection. Rather he was telling them the whole purpose of his law was to teach them what is right and what is wrong. It was to help them feel guilt and shame over the things that displease God, so they could change, and come to repentance. That way God could forgive them, which is what he wanted all along. It's no different than a small child really. In order for a child to know that something is wrong he has to be taught first. Parents spend the early years of a child's life teaching right from wrong. Then as they get older, the art of forgiveness must be demonstrated and taught. That's what the Old Testament was all about -- teaching mankind what is right and what is wrong. Then the New Testament is about repentance and forgiveness, teaching us that when we do wrong, we should repent so we can be forgiven. Jesus didn't come to change the law, and he most certainly didn't come to redefine right and wrong. Jesus is Yahweh, the same God of the Old Testament. He does not contradict himself. This is the message of gospel, and it has been the teaching of Christianity from the very beginning. The Secular world does not understand this, because the Secular world does not understand the gospel. That's why they want to redefine sin, and that's why they think the most important virtue of Christianity (or any religion for that matter) is the virtue of 'being nice'. They just don't get it.

Jesus is the Hebrew God -- Yahweh -- who defined right from wrong for us through his Law. His whole purpose of coming to earth as a man was to pay our penalty for breaking that Law, so we could repent of our wrongdoing and live a better life.  Being nice is only a small part of that better life. Being holy (abandoning sin) is a bigger part. Serving others (by sacrificing self) is the biggest part. Part of sacrificing self means being willing to tell others about the dangers of sin. People don't like to hear the truth, and so sometimes just doing this will be have consequences. People might get mad at you. Or they might not like you. Even worse, they might use social pressures, or the government, to try to make you stop. This is part of what it means to sacrifice yourself for the betterment of others. Christians oppose sin for one reason, and one reason only. It's because Jesus Christ opposes sin. He doesn't oppose sin because he wants to condemn people. Quite the opposite really. He opposes sin because he wants people to be sorry and repent, that way he can forgive them. You see, God isn't looking for a perfect people, just humble people, meaning people who are willing to admit they aren't perfect, don't always live up to God's standards, and are willing to try to change their ways as much as possible. To them he offers forgiveness, a warning to 'go and sin no more', and an example of how to give of themselves to the fullest.

END.
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Shane Schaetzel is a published author and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Death of America and the West

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States
Painted in 1940 by Howard Chandler Christy

There is a popular story that goes like this. Benjamin Franklin (depicted as seated and facing us, lower centre in the painting above) emerged from Independence Hall at the close of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on September 18, 1787. He probably exited the building much slower than the other delegates as he was suffering from an infection in his foot at the time. A woman approached him and asked, "Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?" Mr. Franklin paused for a moment and replied, "A republic, madam – if you can keep it."

Later John Adams, as the second president of the United States (depicted seated to the right of Franklin above, facing us), elaborated on this remark, when he wrote a letter to the officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts on October 11, 1798...
"Should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practising iniquity and extravagance, and displays in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candour, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world; because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
In other words, according to John Adams, our constitution and our government, have not been designed to govern a people who do not restrain themselves through religion. Without religion, our system of government implodes upon itself.

George Washington, acting as the first president of the United States (depicted standing far right in the painting above, overlooking the delegates), in his farewell address of September 17, 1796, had much to say about this...
"Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity.... Let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."
In other words, according to George Washington, even if you're not a religious person, you should learn to appreciate the value of religion. Because it is through religion that a nation of people find their moral compass. While it may be possible for a handful of irreligious (atheist or agnostic) individuals to find some system of morality, through science or something, it is not the experience of history that an entire nation of irreligious people can do the same. Even a militant atheist, if he cares about the political prosperity of his nation, should be an advocate for religion. Anything else is national suicide.

These were the words of the men who signed the Constitution of the United States. Our system of government was created by them. Indeed, the entire contemporary model of democratic republicanism (or republican democracy) was invented by these men. What they forged on this continent over two and a quarter centuries ago, the entire Western world has come to imitate in one way or another. And yet they gave us a stark warning. To make this system of government work and prosper, you must have a religious society. Of course, by "religious" these men meant the contemporary religion of their time, which was primarily Christian. And they were not just talking about a cultural nod to Christianity without any real substance. They were talking about the contemporary people of their time, people who went to church every Sunday, lived the Christian morality in their daily lives and prayed often. Were they a perfect people? Of course not. There were most certainly deists, agnostics and hedonists among them. Many more failed to live up to the Christian standards they espoused. Yet, it is undeniable that the majority of these people, at the time, were God-fearing Christians, and this the founders saw as necessary for the creation of their democratic republic. Without it, they did not believe it could survive.

Were they wrong? Let's examine the historical facts. In spite of the great moral dilemma that plagued much of 19th century America (slavery), and the conflagration of war that ravaged the continent in the 1860s, over the issue of state secession, the American republic held strong and recovered from these events with remarkable vigour. The nation only continued to solidify well into the 1950s, even after the two world wars and the greatest economic depression in modern history. However, this began to radically change in the decade of the 1960s, and it would seem that the seeds of this great unravelling were planted in the decades prior. By the 1970s, the moral and religious decline of America was well under way, and by the 1980s unstoppable. It was just a matter of time before what was going on in the streets became enshrined into the law of the land. This is what we are witnessing today, with the permanent legalisation of abortion-on-demand, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, unjust wars, legalisation of illicit drugs, corporate and banking bailouts, and now the legal marginalisation of churches and Christian owned businesses. In the course of just my own lifetime, from 1970 until now, I have witnessed this filth go from dirty magazines and back alley perversion, straight into acceptance in the workplace, and now into the courts and legislatures across the nation. Our government of today has simply become a reflection of our streets a few decades ago. It doesn't take a wise man to understand that the government of tomorrow will simply be a reflection of our streets today, and that does not bode well for Christians in America. A great antipathy toward Christianity exists on our streets of America today. This is because the influence of Christianity is seen as the greatest obstacle standing in the way of total self indulgence and sexual license. This will only play out in government in the years ahead. There are a lot of young people today, who feel hostility toward churches for not embracing their sinful lifestyles, and when these youngsters are old enough to start running for office, there is going to be some "payback." This is why, Catholic Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago, said the following while speaking to a group of priests in 2010 about the increasing secularisation of American society...
"I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilisation, as the church has done so often in human history."
Some have regarded this statement as prophetic. Only time will tell with that, but for now, that does seem to be the logical trajectory of America's political climate.

There is a lot of talk these days about the political problems in America, and possible solutions for these problems. Of course the constant mantra of "throw the bums out!" is ever present in reference to our elected officials. Some have tried to be more creative, by proposing a constitutional amendment for term limits, a balanced budget, changing the tax code, raising the minimum wage, universal healthcare, etc. Some have even proposed another Constitutional Convention, often called a "Convention of States," enacting Article V under the U.S. Constitution. Some have even proposed state secession again, reopening the old wounds from a conflict long ago. All of these are well and good, and may serve as useful political tools in the years ahead, but they don't really delve into the heart of the problem. None of these measures will fix America's gradual decline into tyranny, and ultimately collapse. Perhaps, if fortunate, they may slow America's decline a little, but they will not prevent it. The reason for this is because too many Americans are diagnosing the problem as a local problem, particular to the United States, when in fact the problem is universal, spanning all of Western civilisation, and is systemic at the "cellular level" (socially speaking), starting at the bottom, with the common people in general. I liken it to a surgeon trying to remove a cancerous tumour from his patient, when the cancer has already metastasised and gone throughout the body. The surgeon's noble effort, even if successful, will be in vain. In truth, the death spiral America now finds itself in, is not limited to America. All of Canada and Western Europe is in a similar death spiral, while Latin America and Oceania are not far behind. Furthermore, the moral cancer that afflicts us is not limited to government institutions, nor even corporate entities, but actually begins at the most basic levels. It starts in America's urban and suburban neighbourhoods. Even the country farms are not immune. It begins with the corruption of our youth, through loose morality, often promoted on television and the internet. Sex of course is the primary lure, but it's not just limited to that. Greed also plays a role, as does the devaluation of human life. In our homes, in our families, and our neighbourhoods, the destruction of America begins in the minds of the young. These youngsters grow up, and they enter the work force, then they are promoted to management, and finally they become CEOs of major corporations, or they are elected to government office. Some become lawyers and are eventually appointed as judges. See the pattern now? The decline of America did not come from the top down. It came from the bottom up. Immoral laws were instituted by immoral men because these men were made immoral as boys. They were made immoral by looking at dirty magazines, reading immoral books, watching immoral movies, and talking with other boys who were doing the same thing. Some of these boys were lucky, and received the intervention of godly men (fathers, uncles, priests, teachers and mentors) who set them back on the straight and narrow. Sadly, some of them were not so lucky, and many of those are now running our corporations and government today.

America's moral decline coincided with America's religious decline, and for America, that religious decline began in earnest during the 1960s. Now, we can point to brief periods of religious decline in the 1920s, and previous decades, but nothing on par with what was seen in the 1960s. This latest religious decline, which has continued non-stop for 50 years now, follows on the heels of Europe's religious decline, which began decades sooner, and has left Europe nearly devoid of all practising Christianity.

The problem is intergenerational now, and it's only going to get worse before it gets better. If you want to know what America will look like in ten to twenty years, you need look no further than Europe. It won't look like the distopian nightmare often portrayed in the movies, but at the same time, it's not going to be easy for Christians to cope with. Almost all of the European governments are just one generation away from collapse, and a good number of them currently have policies that Americans would consider "tyrannical." In England for example, citizens are constantly watched by government video cameras. On the one hand, this has helped to reduce crime. On the other hand, privacy and personal liberty are a thing of the past. In Germany, children are forced to attend government-approved schools, where they receive government-approved propaganda. Home educating a child is illegal, punishable by jail time for the parents, and foster care for the child. In America, where homeschooling is currently legal in all fifty states, this is a shocking violation of civil and parental rights. In France, America's sister-nation by revolution, the traditional family has so completely broken down, that the native French population is no longer producing enough babies to replenish itself. Therefore, the government is forced to import millions of African Muslims to shore up the birthrate gap. The result is the gradual "Islamification" of France. Many other European nations are experiencing a similar problem. So were America's founding fathers wrong? Can a democratic republic, built on personal liberty, survive without national religion? If we use post-Christian Europe as an indicator, the answer is no. It cannot survive. Gradually, it slips into tyranny. It's people are slowly replaced, until the only thing that remains is the replacement of the government. That day will come for some European nations in about thirty to fifty more years. America won't be far behind, that is, if our government doesn't implode for some other reason first.

It is a noble effort for American Christians to be involved in politics, and try to slow America's decline, but we should all understand this is a losing battle. For it's not just the special interests of the homosexual lobbyist that are pushing our government toward same-sex marriage. A whole lot of major "big money" corporations have publicly thrown their support behind it too. I'm speaking of such corporations as: Thompson Reuters Corp., Disney, Viacom, Inc., Bloomberg, Verizon, DirectTV, Google, Comcast, CBS, AT&T, Facebook, Twitter, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Starbucks and Miller Coors. Even sports teams have jumped on board this bandwagon, such as the NFL New England Patriots, and the MLB San Francisco Giants and Tampa Bay Rays. These join a list of over 300 major corporations and franchises that have formally petitioned the United States Supreme Court to rule in favour of same-sex marriage (source). Again, if you want to know America's future, you need look no further than Europe, where same-sex marriage has been legal in some countries for decades, and is currently being legalised in many others. Again, none of this should be a surprise. Boys and girls are made to be immoral by the things they see, read, and are exposed to via the popular media. Some of them are rescued by the moral intervention of parents, teachers, religious leaders and mentors. Most of them are not. They in turn grow up to become business managers, CEOs, lawyers, judges and politicians. Their immorality becomes institutionalised and enshrined into the policies of corporations and the laws of cities, states and countries. We're just watching this all unfold before our eyes. I often hear people lament, "what is going on in the world today?" and "it seems the whole world has just gone insane!" Why should they be surprised really? This is the same immorality they watched in high school. The people who are now promoting it in business and government are the exact same people who were promoting it in high school thirty years ago. Nothing has changed, except of course the venue. What began as a homosexual make-out scandal in a high school boys locker room thirty years ago, is now being enshrined into the laws of our land as same-sex marriage. It's the same people folks! The homosexual couples in the locker room back during the 1980s and 90s have just grown up now, and they're running our corporations, cities and state governments. Some are even in national government. Greed plays a huge role in this, because when corporations endorse homosexuality, there is usually a big financial pay off. The days of trying to boycott these corporations are long since past. Organising boycotts is hard enough, but now there are so many corporations to boycott, one would have to become Amish to avoid them. This is it folks. The end of the "culture war" is upon us, and guess what? We lost.

History will record that the death of America and the West began with the widespread distribution of entertainment media. It began with print magazines, which allowed perversion, heresy, apostasy and greed to be easily spread over great distances. However, it was accelerated with the invention of film, radio, television and ultimately the internet. History will record that churches were no match for the rise of mass communication and the entertainment media. The corruption of America and the West began with the corruption of the youth, both through the communist propaganda of "there is no god," to the capitalist mantra of "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die." Together, these competing voices actually complemented each other, to create the greatest fall of a civilisation since the Roman Empire, one that will likely rival that by at least ten-fold. A civilisation that was build on Christianity, just had its foundation ripped out from underneath it. The gradual collapse of the superstructure above it was only inevitable.

While it is noble for Christians to try to save what is left of the American Republic, it is perhaps time to come to a sobering realisation. The fall of America is not an isolated event. It is simply a rather large domino in a chain reaction that is bringing about the fall of many nations in the Western world. In other words, we're not alone. Canada is falling too, as is Europe, Latin America and Oceania. The problem is much bigger than many of us realise, and it may not be possible to save the country we once knew and loved. It is time, perhaps, to start thinking outside the box, and I suspect most of America's founding fathers would agree. (I say this because of their own writings, and sayings attributed to them.) While keeping all political options on the table (such as term-limits, tax codes, constitutional conventions, and even secession), Christians in America must begin to understand that the battle transcends the United States of America, and indeed, our country may not survive this. That being a real possibility, Christians in America need to begin to understand that the battle continues even after America. It is a battle first and foremost, to preserve ourselves as a people. By that I mean a battle to preserve ourselves as Christians. This is our primary goal. Beyond that, it is a battle to preserve our heritage as English-speaking people and the values of our English Common Law, as well as our British (English, Irish and Scottish) cultural heritage. If these things can survive the coming fall of America and the Western world, we will have done well. With these things in hand, we can easily rebuild a new nation on the ruins of this old one. As Cardinal George said would come after the martyrdom of a future Archbishop of Chicago, "His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilisation, as the church has done so often in human history." The good news here is that as Christians we are on the winning team, because even if we lose this nation, our descendants will just build another.

So what is the game plan? How do we devise a winning strategy, regardless of what the future holds for our country and our civilisation? The answer is simple, and it can be found in our children. First and foremost, we must become Christians who know our faith intimately and live it passionately. This is especially true for Catholics. So Catholics take note. Ours will be the last Church standing when the conflagration of the West is finally over. Second, we must start having babies, as many as we can. We must not buy into the contraception mentality. The more children we have usually means the better off we are. A greater number of children insures our Christian values will propagate. Third, we must guard our children's minds. Now by this I don't mean shelter them. While we should when they are very young, as they get older, we should prepare them for the perversion of this world. That might mean letting them see some of it on the television or internet -- within reason of course -- so that we can apply our parental guidance while they're still young, explaining what is wrong and why it is wrong. It has been this failure of parents in previous generations that has led to the mess we are in now. It's not about hiding our children from the world, but rather guiding them into understanding it from a Christian perspective. Fourth, nurture our English history and values in our children. Help them to see their identity as something that reaches far beyond the shores of America alone. We have a history as a people. Maybe our ancestors came from other lands, such as Italy, Mexico or China, but as Americans we have inherited the language and culture of the British. Our language comes from England, while much of our folk music and dance comes from Scotland and Ireland. Our laws come from English Common Law, and this is how we understand the concept of individual and family rights. All of these things will be necessary if our children's children are to rebuild a new nation (or nations) atop the ruins of this one. If by remote chance, America does not eventually collapse, then again knowledge of all of these things will be necessary to repair the damage that was done. Either way, we must survive as a people -- a Christian people -- and we are worth preserving. I think America's founding fathers would agree, and I think they would likewise agree that the principles they founded America upon are far more important than the republican government they created.

END.
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Shane Schaetzel is a published author and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'

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Sunday, March 01, 2015

Reaching Out to Muslims

The Virgin Mary and Jesus,
old Persian miniature. Date: unknown.
In Islam, they are called Maryam and Isa.
There has been a lot of talk recently about the bloody history between Christianity and Islam. Much of this was spawned by recent remarks made by Barack Obama at the 2015 National Prayer Breakfast, in which the president echoed the popular, but false, narrative that Medieval Christians attempted to spread their faith by the sword. Nothing could be further from the truth actually, and there are many historians who have set the record straight. In summary, the crusades were a defensive military action, like the reconquista of Iberia, to retake some Christian lands that were forcibly taken by Muslim conquest. Forced conversion was not permitted by the Catholic Church, so if any of that business went on, it was against the instructions of Rome. The president of the United States needs a history lesson.

Today we live in a time of great fear and uncertainty, especially in regard to Islam. The savage brutality of the ISIS caliphate in the Middle East is a daily reminder of how bad things can get under militant Islamic rule. The growing number of Muslims in Europe has left many with the concern that the cradle of Christian civilisation will soon become an Islamic state. Many Americans are starting to worry about the number of Muslims now entering the United States. What does the future hold? Are we approaching the end of Western Christianity as we know it? Is the Catholic Church soon going to find itself in the same situation as Eastern Orthodox churches in the Middle East, under the thumb of Islamic rule? Will Western civilisation soon find itself in a fight for its life against the rise of Islam in Europe and North America?

While many of the warning signs on the horizon look very ominous, there is something going on beneath the surface that has the potential to change our entire outlook. Yes, Muslims are coming West, but at the same time, Muslims are converting to Christianity in unprecedented numbers. As far back as fifteen years ago, on December 12, 2000, Al-Jeezera published an interview with Sheikh Ahmad Al-Qataani, who served as an Islamic scholar in Libya and director of a training centre for imams, in which he said the following: "In Africa alone, every hour, 667 Muslims convert to Christianity, 16,000 every day, six million a year." This is an astonishing quote. Yet it's not just Africa that is seeing conversions. One news source in Britain stated that as many as 15 percent of all Muslim immigrants to Europe convert to Christianity. While there seems to be no scientific way to verify these numbers, at least none that I can ascertain, even if they're only half true, it tells a remarkable story. Islam is not a monolith, nor is it an iron curtain. In fact, it would appear that many Muslims are more than willing to convert to Christianity, and it is in fact only fear of breaking Shariah Law in Muslim countries that prevents more Muslims from converting.

The Christian West has a problem, to be sure, and much of it centres around what Pope Pius IX called the heresy of Modernism. Today, this translates into militant secularism seen especially in government institutions and public schools, as well as the media and popular culture. It also translates into what many have called "liberal Christianity" as manifested in British and North American Anglicanism, many mainline Protestant denominations, and a number of Catholic dioceses across the Old and the New World. These two expressions of Modernism, both secular and religious, have led to an explosion of immorality across the West. It is this immorality that acts as gasoline poured onto the flames of anti-Western sentiments in the Islamic world. In spite of this, however, more Muslims come West, and while the majority of them obviously retain their Islamic beliefs and culture, a fairly large percent are willing to embrace the cross and convert to Christianity. This is the untold story that is omitted from secular news media, and often ignored by our own religious leaders.

I believe the time of fear is over. It is time for Christians to understand what is really going on. In spite of being besieged on every side by our own culture in the West, Christianity is advancing in Africa and Asia. This has some Muslims in Africa and Asia worried, and among those who are worried, there is a small segment willing to resort to violence to prevent Christianity's spread. We know these groups as ISIS in Syria and Northern Iraq. We also know them as Boko Haram in Africa. The barbaric savagery of these groups against native Christians, particularly in Africa, is the direct result of the victory of the Gospel in these regions, reaching deep into traditionally Muslim territory and making new followers of Jesus Christ.

Simultaneously however, Muslims reaching into Europe and North America are encountering a weakened Christianity, without nearly the zeal and joy of that seen in Africa, but still Muslims are converting in fairly large numbers.

I believe the time has come for Christians to understand the awesome power that we really have in the Gospel to reach out to Muslims and give them hope were previously none existed.

To do this properly, Christians need to first understand our own religion, and live it vigorously. Here in the West, Muslim immigrants will be drawn to holiness among Christian men, and humility among Christian women. They will not be drawn to Christians who look and sound exactly like the militant secular and hedonist world around us. What will attract them is a Christianity that stands in opposition to the militant secularism and hedonism of the Modernist West. Traditional Christian liturgy and devotions will be most attractive to Muslims. The feminine practice of wearing the chapel veil and modest clothing will become a curiosity to Muslim women who often look at Western women as immodest and prideful. The masculine practice of being both a gentle and strong husband and father will attract Muslim men, who often see Western men as weak and feminine. Masculine priest saying mass, with boys serving at the altar, and the beautiful voices of women and girls chanting in choir; these will capture a Muslim's attention. When they see Christians living the values of Christianity in their daily lives, this will only seal the deal, so to speak.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ sells itself. It doesn't need any help from us. It only needs our willingness to live it out in our own lives. In two-thousands years of Christian history, people have been converting to Christianity en masse: Pagans, Gnostics, Muslims, Animists and Spiritists. While these large conversion events have been punctuated by the work of great evangelists here and there, the vast majority of these converts simply came into the Church because there was something attractive to them about Christian life. The greatest evangelists of all time have been none other than average Christians, without charisma or education, who simply lived the Christian life with passion and to the best of their ability.

You see much of evangelism involves apologetics, and much of apologetics involves breaking down stereotypes, propaganda and false impressions. One doesn't need to be a trained evangelist or an apologist to do this. One simply needs to live the Christian life. You see, a certain caricature of Christianity has been painted in the Islamic world for centuries. Breaking that false image is difficult in Muslim nations, where Christianity is nearly outlawed, or at the very least repressed. Here in the West, however, we Christians are free to project ourselves any way we like. The only problem is, we haven't been doing that. Instead we've been focused inward, reinventing ourselves to be less offensive to the Modernist world. When in reality, we should have been doubling-down on our historic Christian identity and values. Had we done that, I think the statistic of Muslims converting to Christianity in the West would be much higher. It's certainly not too late though. In fact, the game has only just begun.

To do this, Christians will need to abandon Modernism and get over their fear of Islam. The average Christian probably couldn't tell you what Muslims actually believe or how that relates to Christianity. So what is Islam from a traditional Christian perspective? Saint John of Damascus (AD 676-749) described the Islamic religion as the "forerunner to Antichrist". Now this is important. He didn't actually call it the Antichrist, but rather the "forerunner" to Antichrist. There is a difference. Why did he say this? He said this because Islam operates on the principle that Jesus Christ is not God, and this is one of the heresies that the prophesied Antichrist will promote. He also said that Mohammed came about his religion by conversing with Jews, Christians, and an Arian monk. Indeed, any cursory study of Islam will reveal a strong Arian link. Unlike Arius however, Mohammed understood that the Arian heresy, which teaches that Jesus Christ is not God (the Second Person of the Trinity), could not survive within a traditional Christian framework any more, especially after the councils of Nicea and Constantinople. Indeed, many have tried that, including for example the Jehovah's Witnesses today, and every time it has failed. He understood that to keep the Arian heresy alive, a new canon of Scripture must be written that is apart from anything the Christian Church could recognise or control. So the Koran was born, and with it the religion of Islam.

Now Muslims believe in Jesus of Nazareth. They believe he was a prophet, and the "messiah" to the Jews (not necessarily anyone else). They also believe that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, and many Muslims hold Mary in very high regard. Likewise, many Muslims have some false ideas about Christianity. Probably the biggest one is that Christians worship three gods. This is because they fail to understand the concept of the Trinity, and to compound matters, some believe the three gods Christians worship are the Father, the Son and the Virgin Mary. Christians will need to understand their own faith well enough to dispel this myth when they encounter Muslim friends in casual conversation, because that you see, is how Christians will win back the Western world. The future of Western Christianity lies waiting in the mosques of Europe and North America. Many of today's Western Muslims will be tomorrow's Western Christians. In many ways, evangelising a Muslim is not too much different than evangelising a Jehovah's Witness, or a member of some other pseudo-Christian group that disavows the Trinity. Actually, it's probably a lot easier. What many Christians will be surprised to learn is that when they really get down into a deep conversation with Muslims about religion, they'll discover that Muslims have many of the same misconceptions about Christianity that Fundamentalists often have about Catholicism. So the basic methods of engagement are very similar, and the learning curve is almost the same.

Now I'm not talking about targeting anyone for conversion. There is no need for that. As I said, the Gospel sells itself. People become Christian because they find something attractive about traditional Christianity, and something attractive about people who live according to the Christian faith. It's not just true with Muslims and people from other religions. It's also true with Christians who have fallen away from the faith. For example; I know a woman who was raised Catholic but had never received a good education and example in the faith. In high school she fell away from Catholicism, and in college she was introduced to Islam. She had been studying it for some time and she already considered herself a Muslim. Then just weeks away from making it official, she met a devout and traditional Catholic man. Within a very short time, she was won back over to the Catholic Christian faith by his basic knowledge and example. He was no trained evangelist or apologist. He just knew his Catholic faith well, and lived it passionately. They are now married and have just recently baptised their first Catholic child. This is what I'm talking about. When we know our faith intimately, and live it passionately, people will be drawn to us. Not only will Muslims be drawn to us, but fallen away Christians too, and people of other religions, or no religion at all.

To reach out to Muslims, Christians in the West need only do three things. One, know the Christian faith intimately. Two, live the Christian faith passionately. Three, befriend Muslims. Yes, it really is that simple. There is no need to take apologetic courses on how to reach Muslims, or even have a detailed understanding of Islam. A cursory understanding of Islam will suffice, what matters more is that Christians understand and live their own faith. Beyond that, Christians only need befriend Muslims and be good Christian neighbours. Eventually, as Muslims get to know you, some of them will ask questions. That's where knowing your own faith comes in handy. You want to be able to answer those questions when they ask. Some Christians might ask: "But what if my Muslim friends try to convert me?" To which I can only say that is the most ideal situation, because it will undoubtedly generate a lot of questions on their part. These are questions that can be answered very effectively, if the Christian knows his own faith intimately and lives it passionately. History testifies that when put on a level playing field, without fear of the sword, the Gospel of Jesus Christ wins every time. You see, Western Christians have to remember that Muslims who live in the West are generally more open-minded than their religious counterparts in the East. That's one reason why they are over here to begin with. Keep this in mind, because these people are more likely to listen to a Christian, if that Christian can make a good case for his faith and backs it with a lifestyle that illustrates it. Reaching out to Muslims is not difficult, especially for those of us who live in countries with religious freedom. We need not target them or do anything special. We only need to know and live our Christian faith, and then be willing to befriend them. Once stereotypes are broken down, invitations can be made, such as inviting them to your church. If they're not interested, then invite them to get together with some of your other devout Christian friends. Exposure to as many good Christians as possible will help Muslims see that Christians are not what they first believed them to be. As a result, a certain percentage will convert. That is guaranteed. However, even those who don't convert will at least become more friendly toward Christianity and accepting of Christian culture. That's a good thing all around.

This article first appeared in Forward in Christ magazine.

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Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of Roman Catholic Christianity as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is concise and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!

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