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Changing Trends in the Christian World

Bilal Atkinson
The Review of Religions, October 1992

The changing trends in Christianity as we see them today are not a new phenomenon. If we turn to the source of Christianity and examine the instructions which Jesus gave to his disciples, we will also find the first movements away from those very instructions:

Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans, go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. (Matthew 10:5)

The instruction is quite clear. Jesus, being a Jew, was appointed by Almighty God for the Jews as a teacher and upholder of the Mosaic laws. As with all prophets before him he believed and taught the Oneness of God. His disciples were given strict instructions to preach only to the Jews who had dispersed to other countries, and were the upholders of the laws of Moses.

St. Paul looked upon the Law as a yoke of bondage, if not as an actual curse. He stated in Galations 3:10 that all who relied on observing the law are under a curse and that Christ redeemed people from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse himself. When the Jews opposed him, he said to them:

Your blood be on your own heads, I am clear of my responsibility, from now on I will go to the Gentiles. (Acts 18:6)

Not only did he disobey Jesus by going to the Gentiles, it would seem that by his correspondence with different persons, he created new laws to suit his separatism from the Mosaic Laws and to direct and systemise the activities of early Christian communities.

By the year 325 A.D. the emperor Constantine 1, who had accepted Christianity, called together both Church and State in what is now known to be the Council of Nicea. This council formulated the Christine, became the accepted instrument for defining Christian dogma. They disposed of many other gospel writings as unnecessary and forced the acceptance of the Trinity, by way of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as the true Godhead.

Naturally there were many who could not accept this. A notable person being a man called Arius, who was a priest in the Church district of Baucalis in Alexandria. He affirmed the Oneness of God and denounced the Trinity. He defined the Oneness of God to Bishop Alexander in which he stated:

We acknowledge one God, who is self existent, eternal, without beginning, true, possessing immortality, wise, good, sovereign and judge of all. Since it is unique, transcendent and indivisible, the being of essence of the Godhead cannot be shared or communicated. For God to impart his substance to some other being, however, exalted, would imply that he is divisible and subject to change, which is inconceivable. Moreover, if any other being were to participate in the divine nature in any valid sense, there would result a duality of divine beings, whereas Godhead is by definition, unique. (Early Christian Doctrines, p. 227/Jnd Kelly)

Naturally Arius and his form of Arianism were officially condemned and he was labeled a heretic. Arius and his followers were ignored and the Nicene Creed was formulated, which has been the basis of all Christian affirmations in the Trinity of God. The Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit remained established until recent times.

Since the demise of Queen Victoria in 1901, the Christian world, especially in England, has seen dramatic changes, not only in the practice of the Christian faith, but also in its preaching.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, most people, even in European countries were poorly educated, if at all. Education belonged to those who could afford it and to the clergy of the Christian Church.

In most European countries, each village had its own church, along with its incumbent priest. It was from the priest that the common man sought advice on many subjects. He would baptise them into the Christian way of life. He would marry them and also bury them. There were no distractions of television or radio and it was to the church that the common folk turned for either knowledge or solace from the rigours of life.

Although the priest was there to counsel them at all times, Sunday was the Day of Rest, according to Christian tradition, and that meant attendance at church on at least one occasion. On Sundays, even the servants were granted time off to attend church to hear the readings from the Bible and the sermon and admonitions of the priest. Every person, whether man, woman or child who attended church, did so wearing clean clothes, or as was the common parlance, their Sunday Best. The ladies and girls would have their heads covered, whilst men and boys were bareheaded.

The people of these times were exhorted to abide by the teachings of the Gospels in their everyday lives.

Apart from the landed gentry, the parish priest had a very powerful influence on the minds of his parishioners. Though naturally there were those who would not accept the teachings of the Church, many did indeed accept and believed in what they were taught as the truth, The Gospel Truth.

During the Victorian era, morality and acceptance of the teachings of the Gospels were an important part of everyday life. The simple country folk used to practice to a certain degree what was preached with great diligence, but in the towns and cities, although an outward display of morals was shown, the cancerous growth of immorality was festering.

With great Empires came great wealth and prosperity and in close attendance, the cancers of greed and lust. The rich became richer and the poor were exploited to the full, the consequences of which would prove harmful to the Church.

Within the Church itself, questions were being asked, however tentatively, about the virgin birth, the miracles and the resurrection of Jesus and about the whole historical basis of Christianity. A few preachers aired their doubts openly and the bishops deplored such indiscretions.

Early in the twentieth century a theological journal published a much discussed special number called Jesus or Christ? Contrasting Jesus of Nazareth with the Christ of the Church orthodoxy. A volume by Oxford scholars called Foundations, showed that the doctrinal foundations were being shaken in the Church of England, although as yet, very gently.

During the period 1914 - 1918 the effects of the Great War were to change the whole lifestyle of the Western world. There were few families that did not feel the effects of that great man-made catastrophe. The great yoke of servitude was cast aside by the lower classes. The domination of the ruling classes was broken and the emergence of the politics of socialism and communism began to grow.

Not only did the ruling classes lose their power but the power of the Church also began to lose the tight grip it once enjoyed on the hearts and souls of the common people.

The effects and consequences of the Great War brought into question the Christian Faith and indeed belief in God.

The delivery of the Church's message seemed to be out of touch with the thoughts and ideas of the time. The Church began to be regarded as the hereditary enemy of the working classes, as they looked for what they thought was true brotherhood and fellowship in the Labour movement. The war had a great effect on the social conscience of the Christians. The shackles of what appeared to be slavery in the industrial system were to go. Wages, employment, housing and schooling were demanded by the working classes. The Church soon realised that the recruitment of working class people into the clergy should being more earnestly.

As education of the masses improved, the level of questioning authority began to grow. The Trade Union Movement developed more muscle and began dealing with the unscrupulous practices of all authoritative bodies, at first with limited success, but grew more powerful with every contest.

Instead of seeking out the local priest for advice, the ordinary man would seek advice from his union representative whom he saw as a fellow brother and as one with better understanding of his daily needs.

The 1920's and 30's saw industrial unrest and the call of the man in the street for a better standard of living only came to fruition after the Second World War. By this time the British Empire had almost reached its nadir and a new Britain had to be built on its ruins. A home for heroes had to be built as the result of the most devastating and traumatic war the world had ever witnessed.

As the social life moved up a gear, the spiritual life of the ordinary man seemed to be left behind. Missionaries continued their activities in Africa and Asiatic countries, but not in their own Western countries, at a time when they were needed the most. So much so that by the time the 1960's arrived, a social, economic and moral trend began the erosion of the Christian teachings.

Let me now refer to some of the changing trends which seem to have affected the Church the most.

MORALITY

Christian values are challenged because Europeans, like the North Americans, have undergone a revolution in sexual ethics during the latter part of this twentieth century.

Up to the 1950's, divorce was looked upon as distasteful, a stigma, and not in keeping with the Christian tradition. During the marriage ceremony the couple pledge before God that they will honour each other and that only death would part them. The rate of divorce now in this country is frightening and has almost reached the tragic North American level.

Although the Roman Catholic Church is against divorce, abortion and contraception, the Protestant Church seems to be indifferent about the situation and fails to see the alarming situation that is rapidly growing out of control.

This so-called revolution has produced uncountable unwanted children, devastated families and broken homes. It has led to destitution and degradation and the Christian Church seems unable and unwilling to cope or control the situation.

Since the emancipation of women in the West, the commercialised cult of sex has been very prominent in European life, partly because it is used as a substitute of religion. Far from being emancipated, their souls languish in the depths of self doubt and insecurity.

One of the most controversial aspects of Catholic life is that priests cannot marry. According to the New Testament and in the early church, many bishops and priests were married. Prior to the middle of the tenth century, all priests were allowed to marry.

The Church initiated a movement to reform. In particular the clergy had to lead chaste lives, not because sex was evil and incompatible with the priesthood, but because a celibate clergy was a powerful tool in uniting the Church and centralising it under the Pope. Without a family, a priest would owe all his loyalties to his religious superiors. He would be less likely to be worried about his property if he had no children to leave it to. The clergy resisted most strongly this attempt to regulate their sex lives and it took the Church a long time to make the clergy celibate. In the Catholic Church, ever increasing numbers of priests have left the priesthood to marry.

Reports in the American Catholic press have estimated that up to fifty percent of all priests in the United States are homosexual. In his book, Clergy under stress, Dr. Ben Fletcher remarks that figures support the view, that a sizable minority of the clergy of the Church of England are likely to be homosexual. The Christian Church, whilst not condoning homosexual or illicit sexual behaviour, seems to turn a blind eye to such incidents.

Instead of looking to the teachings of their own Gospels, they looked for a way out be re-interpreting these teachings to appease those who do not regard their activities in anyway as being unlawful in the sight of God.

We read in the New Testament:

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived, neither the sexually immoral nor idolators nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor slanders, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians, 6:9-11)

Flee from sexual immortality. (1 Corinthians, 6:18)

These admonitions do not point towards any particular person. It warns of the actions of man, not of man himself. It is his actions he must control, for if he does not, then logically, they become uncontrollable and what at first seemed to be unacceptable, through time and practice, these actions become acceptable, not only acceptable but appealing.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immortality, or of any kind of unpurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. (Ephesians 5:3)

The message to any person reading these words is quite clear. Man has many weaknesses and the only true way is to follow with certainty and conviction the teachings of those who have achieved such righteousness and piety in order to attain the pleasure of God.

No matter how Christians might re-interpret the teachings in the Bible, especially the Gospels, they cannot change what God has already decreed. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah as recorded in the book of Genesis, were prone to open acts of immortality. They had no fear of the God of Abraham and Lot. So much so that it is recorded that God said:

The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sins so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.

In the eyes of God, the people of Sodom and Gomorrah had reached such an uncivilized and immoral condition that He destroyed them all, apart, that is, the prophet Lot and a few other righteous people. People, therefore, who accept immoral practices as normal will gradually destroy themselves.

Christians and Christianity must accept the true status of a prophet before they accept the truth. For a prophet is born without sin and remains sinless for he is there for all men to follow.

It is a sad fact that the law of the land in England allows you to buy a semi-pornographic magazine on a Sunday and that same law prohibits you from purchasing a Bible.

Again the changing trends, even from as short a time as the 1950's and early 60's have shown such tolerance towards open lewdness both visually and audibly. Many magazines and other publications as well as television, portray nudity and sexually explicit settings. So called soft pornography is generally thought to be a harmless form of pleasure. The number of sexual offences and child abuse cases in this country alone is on the increase. The revolution in attitudes has had many different causes and has aroused many moral responses. In his book, The Future of Christianity, Mr. David Edwards states:

It is a fact that the sexual revolution has coincided with secularisation of Europe and would have been impossible without the decline in the powers of the clergy. Many secularised people as well as many Christians are deeply worried about some development.

There is massive concern about the increase in the number of abortions involving sacrifice of the embryos which are at least, potentially human, to the convenience of adults, about the divorce epidemic inflicting cruel emotional damage on children as well as on wronged wives or husbands. About the pressures on women to coarsen their sexuality in order to keep men as friends. About the militantly 'gay' propaganda for homosexuality as a satisfactory alternative to marriage. It is widely recognised that the often commercialised cult of sex - something very different from the life-giving role of sex in courtship and marriage, has been so prominent in modern European life.

Quite surprisingly he goes on to say:

In such a society the churches are in danger of alienating vast numbers of Europeans unnecessarily by insisting on moral and social customs which are not essential to the Christian understanding of sexuality.

Surely, whether the Church alienates the people or not, the onus is on that very Church, Christian or otherwise, to admonish and to lead the people by example, so that others may have the courage to stand and be counted.

ORDINATION OF WOMEN PRIESTS

The Catholic Church, along with Eastern Orthodox Christians, allow only men to be ordained into the priesthood. They have resisted the recent tendency within other Christian dominations to begin to ordain women also. The tradition of only ordaining men to the ministerial priesthood goes back to the time of Jesus himself, who chose only men as his apostles. According to the Catholic teaching, the priest represents Jesus, who is God become man, and not God become woman.

Although the Catholic Church remains impervious to the constant demands of the supporters of women priests, the Protestant and Anglican churches have allowed women to be more active, to the cautionary and unbending views of some clerical hierarchy and also the ordinary faithful, including Christian women themselves.

Mr. John Gummer, a cabinet minister in the present British Government and also a member of the Church of England's governing body, the General Synod, has recently made comment on some of the practices of the Church of England in a recent edition of the Spectator Magazine. On the ordination of women priests he said:

The ordination of women undermines the whole basis of the Church. Once Anglicans decide they can unilaterally change the Apostolic order of the Catholic Creeds and depart therefore from the teachings of the Universal Church, the whole basis of their comprehensiveness is destroyed.

Christians believe that woman, in the form of Eve, was the first sinner, and not man in the form of Adam. Their erroneous belief that all are born with sin and that woman was the first to be led astray, still seems to bind some of them to hold fast to these beliefs.

If Christians take the teachings of the Bible to be a guide in their everyday lives, then one may ask how they take account of the teachings of Saint Paul:

I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

A woman should learn quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, she must be silent.

For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived, it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be kept safe through childbirth, if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (1 Timothy 2:9-12)

And if that was not a sufficient and clear advice he goes on to say:

For God is not a God of disorder of but peace. As in all congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (1 Corinthians 14:33-35)

This teaching is very clear that women should not speak in churches, but remain silent. This is not an Islamic teaching or Buddhist teaching but it is the teaching of the Christian Church itself. Outwardly it seems very restrictive on women to even speak in a church let alone conduct the affairs of the church and be chief participants in the services held within the church.

STATUS OF THE BIBLE

By alluding to the New Testament and, indeed, the Bible as Word of God or the inspired Word of God, Christians in this day and age have made prisoners of themselves. Do they think that by re-interpreting these books of the New Testament, they are also inspired by God to do so?

Time and time again, people of all religions, past and present, reject the pure teachings of their faith and mould them to suit the individual needs of the time.

Christian scholars are agreed that the Gospel of Mark was the first to be written.

The two oldest surviving texts of the Bible in existence, which include the whole of the New Testament and most of the old and known as Codex Sinaiticus were discovered in the St. Catherine's monastery situated at the foot of Mount Sinai during the last century.

Upon examination of these manuscripts it was found that the Gospel according to Mark ended at 16:8 with the words, 'because they were afraid'. In today's versions of the Gospel of Mark, however, you will find an extra twelve verses that have been added to Chapter 16, which relate to the resurrection of Jesus and also the fact that Jesus told his disciples to preach to the whole of creation. The last instruction contradicts his earlier instruction to the disciples to go only to the lost sheep of Israel.

The discovery of the Codex Sinaiticus which Christian scholars tried to reject its evidence and failed, gravely affects the main aspect of the Christian faith, namely the resurrection.

The Codex Sinaiticus is owned and can be found in the British Museum.

The Right Reverend Dr. David Jenkins, Bishop of Durham in his book, Free to Believe, states:

If we are going to be free to believe, we have got to understand that the major pre-occupations of the Gospel writers was not to give accurate and historical accounts as we would understand them.

This admission, which I believe to be a sincere and true admission by a high ranking bishop within the Church of England, brings into doubt what exactly is required of a Christian. If he, as a great scholar, has found inconsistencies within the Bible, then how does he and all other Christian hierarchy expect the ordinary man, woman and child in the street to understand?

Different versions of the Bible have been produced to suit different tastes and trends. Changes to the Books of Common Prayer, changes to the traditional hymns and changes in the actual Christian services which are now conducted using modern music and instruments to attract the modern youth, are but a few alterations to Christian practices. For instance, in an article in the Sunday Times (12.7.92) it was reported that the first complete feminist interpretation of the Bible called The Women Bible Commentary is soon to be released.

The book, which tackles the Bible from cover to cover, suggests that some of the Gospels have been written by women and, according to the Sunday Times correspondent, Eve emerges as the heroine, Adam as the wimp, Mary Magdalene as misunderstood and God forbid, Jesus as something of a male chauvenist.

This interpretation of the Bible has already been denounced by the Cenerable George Austin, Archdeacon of York. He comments:

This is totally wrong and a distortion of the Scriptures. It shows there is a liberal agenda and it is creeping in on us.

He went on to say:

Exalting Eve is exalting sin. These people are turning evil into good and good into evil.

Commenting on the book, Canon Roy Porter, emeritus professor of theology at Exeter University also said:

If you go behind a text with certain ideas, you find what you want to find.

Throughout the centuries, the ordinary Christian has almost been brain-washed by Christian scholars into believing the Gospels to be a totally accurate account of the ministry of Jesus. Today, Christian scholars have indeed found elements of doubt in the Scriptures and they are now saying to the faithful that the emphasis should be on the spirit of the teachings and not on the actual words.

Commenting on other trends, Mr. Gummer is reported to have said:

The Church of England itself sowed the seeds of its own destruction. It threw away the Book of Common Prayer as the norm of worship and doctrine and replaced it by mix and match liturgies. Today the majesty of the Authorised Version of the Bible is rarely heard and the Tesco-speak translations cheat the next generation of its heritage.

It would seem that the people about whom Mr. Gummer is talking think that God's teachings are old fashioned and not in tune with the times.

RESURRECTION

According to the an article in the Times (Saturday March 28, 1992), Dr. Jenkins, in an interview with the evangelican magazine, Alpha, said he thought it unlikely that Jesus said that he was the way the truth and life (John 14:6) and agreed that John had said it.

In an interview with Clive Calver, director of the Evangelical Alliance, Dr. Jenkins stated that the body of Christ could still be discovered in a Middle Eastern tomb, but he was no absolutely certain. He went on to say:

The more I am involved in this, the less likely I think that anything that might be called physical reconstruction or resurrection took place.

Dr. Jenkins has stirred up a hornets nest by questioning the virgin birth of Jesus and also his bodily resurrection. He has been attacked by some people for speaking what he believes to be the truth, though other authorities are also coming out in his support.

Is it any wonder that the churches are emptying. How can the ordinary man distinguish the truth, if the truth is being withheld from him?

There are some bishops who pour scorn on the Bishop of Durham for speaking out. They do not want the apple cart upset as they know full well that if the truth came out, as it most certainly will, the end of the Christian faith as we know it today, would surely come.

Today, according to a TV documentary called Heart of the Matter, there are substantial numbers of clergymen who do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. This growing movement is known as The Sea of Faith. The dilemma that most of these clerics face is whether to tell the truth or to preach what they believe to be incorrect. They have come to realise that the body of Jesus was not in the tomb after the third day and also know that he appeared to his disciples after crucifixion. The missing link, the missing piece of jigsaw that they are unable to see or grasp, is the fact that he did no die upon the cross. This fact alone explains the disappearance of the body of Jesus from the tomb in the Garden of Gesthemane and this fact alone removes the central pillar of Christianity, that Jesus was not bodily resurrected to sit at the right hand of God Almighty.

The Christians as well as other religious bodies are all waiting for the Messiah to descend from heaven for all people can see. They are waiting for the second coming of Jesus to save them and they have been so blind and deaf that they did not see his sign in the heavens in the 1890's nor did they hear his calling, which I refer to Ahmadiyyat. The Promised Messiah and Holy Founder of the Ahmadiyya Community in Islam proclaimed:

Hear ye people that God Almighty, the Creator of the heavens and the earth has foretold me that He will spread the Ahmadiyya Movement for the propagation of Islam in all parts of the world and make Islam triumphant over all other religions through reason and argument. Remember, no one will descend from heaven. And the third century from today will not have been completed, when all those waiting for Jesus, son of Mary, both Muslims and Christians, will despair of his coming, and shall give up that belief, the days are approaching, rather at hand, that Islam will be the only religion held in esteem by all. Then there shall be only one Guide, the Holy Prophet of Islam. I was raised only to sow the seed of renovation of Islam and I have done it. It shall now grow and flourish and no one will be able to check the growth of Islam.