For the last year and a half I have been pulling books out of my library and re-reading them. I suppose it started with Verduin’s “The Reformers and their Step-children,” which developed into a series of messages. The other day, I spotted a little paperback, the notations on which indicated that I paid 40¢ back in 1976. It was obviously picked up in Calgary Alberta. Its author is a famous Canadian journalist, named Pierre Berton. I can still remember his face – he was that prominent at the time. I often refer to books I am currently reading. They sometimes are mentioned in messages, but more often they are quoted in our weekly bulletin. Rarely, if ever, do I give you book reports. The one book we need, and the one book the world sadly lacks or ignores, is God’s book, the Bible. The day when my sermon text comes out of a book other than the KJV Bible, you’ll know that either I am trying to make a special point, or I’m out of my mind. If that occurs in three successive messages, then you’ll know I need to be dismissed or locked-up. Today my text is scriptural, but I’ve to used this book to help focus of my attention for both messages.
This is not the kind of book I usually read, but a couple of things caught my attention when I saw it in Jaffe’s book store. First was its title, “The Comfortable Pew” – certainly intriguing enough. And it was written by a man unknown to most of you, but who at the time was highly visible in Canada. Pierre Berton was, and may still be, the best-known journalist, author and commentator in Canada. I can still remember some of the outstanding things that he wrote or produced. One was a memorable documentary on the history of the Canadian Pacific Railroad.
In this case, the United Church of Canada commissioned Mr. Berton to critique itself. This book is not that critique, but grew out of it. The United Church of Canada is the most liberal denomination in Canadian religion. And Pierre Berton was at the time Canada’s penultimate agnostic – the second best known unbeliever. Probably the best known and most blatant unbeliever in Canada was a scientist named David Susuki. I still see or hear that man’s name every once in which he is advocating some aspect of evolution. Berton, however, was a journalist, and he was more an agnostic than atheist…..a doubter, an unbeliever. He says, if there is a god, and he’s not sure there is, he is certainly unknown or unknowable.
What is important about this book to me are Berton’s arguments AGAINST Christianity. It is not a criticism of Baptists or fundamentalism – you and me in particular. It is a comment on the purpose and need of Christianity in general. It is written in a courteous manner, and as such deserves a reply. And it reflects the thinking of a great many of our neighbors, both north and south of the border. You might point out that the book is fifty years old, and the arguments against Christianity have changed – evolved even more. Yes, perhaps the details have indeed changed, but the nature of unbelief is the same. Sin and rebellion against Christ have not changed in more than two thousand years.
And we who do believe need to be able to say, “I am not ashamed to be called a Christian – a child of God. I attend a Baptist church, because………” This is why I am showing you this book this morning. I would like to add my answer to Mr. Pierre Berton and all the other Bertons in this world today.
First I need to say that Mr. Berton may have never really talked to a true Christian.
This is probably the saddest fact in his whole book – and in society generally. The Christianity these people hate, fear and reject is a mirage – a straw man. Like millions of others, here is a man who was sprinkled as a child and told he was a baptized Christian. Until he was 18, he went to church and often sat in a Sunday School class. The lessons he heard were just like what I heard in Anglican and Episcopal churches. They were helter-skeleter, non-Biblical, moral ramblings, with only occasional references to God. Eventually, at the appropriate age, Mr. Berton was confirmed and began to take communion He was a “Christian” among Christians according to the common definition, but he probably had never met a true child of God.
Yet at the same time, he was taught agnosticism by his family, society and even his church. He said that as a child he was taught to reverence Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and leprechauns. All of whom eventually turned out to be lies. And those same adults – parents and priests – taught him about “Jesus.” And then he started off to school in Dawson, Yukon, before moving to Victoria. His teachers, like many of mine, blatantly denied the revelation and relevance of the Bible. Science was deified and society was magnified. His parents supported the humanism and atheism which he heard, by ignorantly implying that his teachers were always right, simply because they were professional teachers. And then his church added to the problem by saying that many things in the Bible were fables. He was taught that Noah’s Ark, the virgin birth, and Christ’s walking on water were not true. He was told that most of the events in the Bible should be understood allegorically – they represent important principles, but they did not actually take place. The poor man, knew nothing of Bible Christianity until he had become a confirmed agnostic. His exposure to the Christian religion was entirely liberal and corrupt. While he was growing up he probably never met a Bible-believing saint of God.
And in this is the foundation of this morning’s message: This man’s brush with religion never introduced him to the Truth or even exposed him to it. And this is true of most of the people that you meet every day of the week. He was raised to think that the ministry of Christianity is to rid the world of poverty, war and ignorance. If a church isn’t fighting for the rights of homosexuals, Indians, felons, abortionists and even atheists, then that church has no reason to exist. Although born and raised in a “Christian country” he doesn’t say that he ever heard the gospel of Christ. So he knows nothing of the freedom of sin, the power of God, grace, prayer, the Holy Spirit and so many of the things which you and I hold dear.
And similarly, when we visit with our neighbors, talking to them of our faith, those poor befuddled people misunderstand and misdefine half the things we say. It’s because if they went to church at all, it was led by a Bible-denying, false prophet. No wonder there is so little response when we speak to them – we are speaking a foreign language. No wonder Mr. Berton dislikes Christianity, he has only seen a poor, fraudulent imitation. The first thing that grabbed me when I read this book is that our neighbors know very little about genuine Christianity.
Now let me get to some specifics, starting where Berton started in his book.
As an agnostic, he questions the role that God plays IN WAR.
He wrote specifically of the Second World War, where he saw “Christians” killing Christians with each saying “God is on our side.” Remember, that to him, one purpose of Christianity is to rid the world of war. He looked at Christians and Christianity’s role in history and said, “I will have no part in that kind Christianity.” And you know, from his corrupted perspective his assessment is somewhat true. Both the world wars were fought over selfish, secular, material goals. Someone wanted something and picked up weapons in order to get it. Then someone else decided he shouldn’t have it, so he picked up weapons in order to keep it. I know that is an over-simplification, but that has been the way of war since early in the book of Genesis. And when the common man was called into the trenches and handed those weapons, he was told by his religion that the killing of his enemy was justified.
Like it or not, war is not an easy dilemma to unravel. Despite opinions to the contrary those wars had little holy, religious or moral roots. It is debatable that any man’s spiritual freedom was at stake – except for the Jews, whom many American’s hated as much as the Germans. Both those wars were motivated by greed, politics and pride on both sides. And in case you have forgotten, those are all rooted in sin.
But that doesn’t mean that all wars are like those wars – that today’s wars are the same as Biblical wars. Yes, God at times commanded war – for the purpose of national punishment. And at times, war is necessary for the defense of the right to worship the Lord. It is impossible for a Bible-believer to say that all war is “un-Christian” or immoral.
However, when it comes to national, racial and political disagreements, the Bible does not, without qualification, authorize the shedding of blood. It teaches us to love those who hate us. It praises the Samaritan who stopped to care for his blood-enemy, the Jew. The Bible says, “Blessed are the peace-makers.” And true Baptists believe that anyone has the right to believe anything he chooses. Through the years Baptists have given their lives to permit Pierre Berton the privilege to be an agnostic. Depending on circumstances, I’d fight someone who should deny me the right to preach the gospel Christ.
But to condemn Christianity because it has been unable to stop nations from going to war is ridiculous. Can a tree stop the wind? I don’t think that Mr. Berton’s argument should be made to apply to us.
A second argument he raises against organized Christianity is the problem of MINORITIES.
Remember, most of our neighbors think that solving society’s problems is the reason for our existence. So many people have said, “Where are the churches when races around world are being exploited? Where was Christianity when the blacks were forced to back of bus and segregated bathrooms? Why is it that the more religious the man, the more he demands segregation? Where were the churches when the Indians were being expelled from their homes? Why can’t the churches be reaching out to the Syrian refugees? And the poor, the poor homosexual needs to be taken into our churches for comfort and protection.” The agnostic says, “I’ll have no part of any Christianity which is so cold and unconcerned as that.”
One of the problems which the atheist cannot see is that a Bible-believing Christian IS one of the minorities. That is not true of the liberals within Christendom, but the saints of God are few and far between. And I can’t speak for everybody, but Baptists have been trying to help the down-trodden for centuries.
But there is “help“ and then there is “help.” There is a difference between affirmation and rescue. 90% of Americans think that “help” means some sort of social assistance. That is an error of enormous proportions. The homosexual, whether white or black, and the black whether straight or crooked, both need to be told that they are hell-bound lost souls who need to be born-again. In fact that is true of the majority as well as the minority. But it is not something to which Mr. Berton agrees, because he knows nothing of the Bible.
I admit that I am not particularly vocal on social issues, but the primary work of this church is spiritual and not political or social. The problems of this world are not going to be solved with teaching morality in school or electing good men to public office. The answer to this world is the spreading of the gospel of Christ. And that begins with declaring the universality of sin. Every person in the world: red, yellow, black and white are lost, rebellious, sinners. To preach the message of God’s saving grace is infinitely more important than taking up a placard and marching about trying to change society in any other way. Bible-believing Baptists do care about society, but their care should be expressed is in God’s way. Pierre Berton needs to be born again; he doesn’t need to be affirmed in his unbelief or in his sin.
The man then spoke about the HYPOCRISY within professing Christian churches.
Ah, here is a standard criticism with which we are familiar. What duplicity of standards so many Christians have; one for us and another for everyone else. And the criticism is absolutely just in some cases. But I know that it cannot be said of Christ, and should never be said of us. This church stands diametrically opposed to any double standards. What is sin to the drunkard is sin to Christ and thus to us. And what is good enough to preach on Sunday is good enough to be lived tomorrow at work.
But perhaps Pierre Berton is right, and we should preach more on Christian ethics. The business world is built on the foundation of covetousness and greed. The whole purpose of advertizing is to tempt us and toward things we don’t really need. The average store is filled to the rafters with junk which necessity doesn’t require. But the Bible tells us to control our covetousness and to be content with such things that we have. It tells us “the love of money is the root of all evil.” Let us not live one thing on Sunday and another on Thursday or Monday.
Is there hypocrisy in Christian churches? Sure there is – because hypocrisy is everywhere. When watching a baseball game on television, the camera often pans across the stands. Many people are paying less attention to the game than they are to their food, drinks, phones and friends. Hypocrisy. There is even hypocrisy in agnosticism and atheism. Isn’t it hypocrisy for the agnostic to pray when he gets into trouble? Yes, there is hypocrisy in churches, but there is no hypocrisy in Jehovah.
Berton’s next argument against Christianity was something he called “PREPACKAGED MORALITY.”
Upon this I make no apology: Christian morality is without doubt pre-packaged. I say this because true Bible Christianity is not man-made, but delivered to us by God. The religion of the Bible is dominated by Jehovah, and when He has expressed His will, it is the will of God. It stands and cannot be challenged by man, without inciting the Lord’s judgment. The morality of the liberal is in constant flux – change – but ours is not supposed to be like that.
The world has been in the midst of moral revolution, and it has been from the very beginning. That revolution is only a small part of a larger, major war – a war of anti-theism. For example, despite what the psychiatrists, radicals, pornographers and liberal theologians say adultery and fornication are sin. Abortion is both immoral and pre-meditated murder, according to the Word of God. Homosexuality is beastial and beastiality is un-Christian. On we could go.
And why do I say such things? Because I believe that the Bible teaches a certain set of standards, and the Bible has not changed. It is not just that I’m an old foggy fogy; I’m bigoted or mean. I have no alternative but to say such things, because God has revealed His will. And if this is a just cause to be an agnostic, then so be it. There is nothing I can do about it. But Bible believers will not compromise just to please a few ungodly dissidents.
Now let me close this morning by making an appeal.
First, stick around for a couple hours. Have lunch with us and then let’s consider some more of Berton’s arguments this afternoon.
And then, consider the fact that if you are guided by humanism, fallen society or evolutionary thinking, your mind-set is contrary to the God who created you. The Bible must be our guide, not the ever mutating whims of men. The Bible is the mind of the Lord. Take it, read it and heed it. It speaks about life on earth and how to live it. And it also speaks about life beyond this world – how to receive it, and what it will mean.
It says that each of us need to meet Jesus Christ at the cross. Calvary was the place of Jesus’ sacrificial, substitutionary death for sinners like us. If we meet the Lord there, the Lord will meet us here (heart). He can take the very worst agnostic and atheist, and make him one of His own children. He will give us life and give us purpose here upon this earth. He will make this world a place worth living. I beseech you to consider the merits of Christ and the demands of the scripture.