Rev. DeVries is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Wingham, Ontario, Canada.

The Religion of Youth—and Many More??

This is scary—a book by Christian Smith and MelindaLundquist Denton, researchers with the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), entitled, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford University Press). Cultural Editor of World Magazine, Gene Edward Veith, explains in the June 25, 2005 issue ofWorld:

After interviewing over 3,000 teenagers, the social scientists summed up their beliefs: (1) “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.” (2) “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.” (3) “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.” (4) “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.” (5) “Good people go to heaven when they die.”

Even these secular researchers recognized that this creed is a far cry from Christianity, with no place for sin, judgment, salvation, or Christ. Instead, most teenagers believe in a combination of works righteousness, religion as psychological well-being, and a distant non-interfering god. Or, to use a technical term, “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”

Ironically, many of these young deists are active in their churches. “Most religious teenagers either do not really comprehend what their own religious traditions say they are supposed to believe,” conclude Mr. Smith and Ms. Denton, “or they do understand it and simply do not care to believe it.”

Another possibility is that they have learned what their churches are teaching all too well. It is not just teenagers who are moralistic therapeutic deists. This describes the beliefs of many adults too, and even what is taught in many supposedly evangelical churches.

Mr. Smith and Ms. Denton recognize this. MTD has become the “dominant civil religion.” And it is “colonizing” American Christianity. To the point, these secular scholars conclude, “a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but is rather substantially morphed into Christianity’s misbegotten stepcousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”

Consider how many Christian publications, sermons, and teachings are nothing but moralism. Sometimes morality is reduced to the simplistic MTD commandment “be nice,” though often real morals are inculcated. But the common assumption is that being good is easy, just a matter of knowing what one should do and trying harder. The biblical truth that bad behavior is a manifestation of sin, a depravity that inheres in our fallen nature, is skimmed over. And so is the solution to sin: a life-changing faith in Jesus Christ.

Consider how many Christian publications, sermons, and teachings are primarily therapeutic. It is true that Christ can solve many of our problems. But much that passes for Christian teaching says nothing about Christ. Instead, it consists of pop psychology, self-help platitudes, and the power of positive thinking.

Consider how many Christian publications, sermons, and teachings talk about God in a generic way, but say nothing about the Father, who created and still sustains the world; the Son, who became incarnate in this world to win our salvation; and the Holy Spirit, who works through the Word of God to bring us to faith.

Christianity is about grace, not moralism; changing lives, not making people feel better about themselves; the God made flesh, not an uninvolved deity. And that is better news than Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

What a simple, convenient religion! Be nice! Feel good! And God is there to help out in a pinch. No wonder it is so popular, not just with the youth, but with much of the modern day church. But as Veith correctly points out, this is a far cry from Christianity. And it is scary, from a spiritual point of view, that, as co-author Christian Smith asserts, even a good proportion of Protestant teens articulated their faith in these terms.

God forbid that it become so with us and our young people! May the chief mark of the faithful church, the pure preaching of the gospel, be manifest in our churches. May we be diligent in the catechizing of our youth. May the systematic, thorough program of catechism be maintained in our Protestant Reformed Churches. And may God’s grace sustain our religion, in young and old alike, that it be characterized by true faith that is “not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word, but also an assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel in my heart, that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness, and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits” (Heidelberg Catechism, Answer 21).

Canadian Same-sex Marriage Law Passes

Canada has become the fourth country in the world officially to sanction same-sex marriage. The Liberal government’s controversial same-sex marriage legislation (Bill C-38) passed final reading in the House of Commons, sailing through in a 158-133 vote in late June. The Senate proceeded on July 19 to vote 47-21 in favor of the bill. The bill became law when it received royal assent on July 20, 2005.

This historic, we should sayinfamous, legislation comes after gay and lesbian couples launched lawsuits in different provinces demanding the right to marry. Courts in seven provinces agreed that the traditional definition of marriage violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

What about the fallout? Bob Ripley, minister in the United Church of Canada, writes in his Saturday London Free Press column on July 30, 2005:

They were right. The sky didn’t fall when Canada’s Senate gave final approval to Bill C-38.

But the fallout continues.

The Supreme Court of Canada made it clear that it is solely a provincial jurisdiction to protect religious freedom when it comes to the solemnization of marriage. However, marriage commissioners are being told by their provincial government to resign if they cannot, for reasons of conscience or religion, solemnize a same-sex marriage.

Some have done so. But not all.

Orville Nichols, a 69-year-old marriage commissioner from Saskatchewan who has participated in thousands of weddings, is likely to be the first marriage commissioner to be fired for refusing to marry a same-sex couple. Saskatchewan Justice Minister Frank Quennell has indicated that all civic officials in the province will be required to perform same-sex marriages, in spite of their religious beliefs.

In early May, Nichols was asked to perform a ceremony for a gay couple. He refused. Rather than simply finding another commissioner, the couple in question chose to file a complaint with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission. Nichols responded with a complaint against the province, objecting to the violation of his charter rights and the province’s human rights code by discriminating against him on the basis of his conscience and religious freedom.

The war of rights gets worse. The Knights of Columbus, a Roman Catholic men’s organization, is facing a human rights complaint in British Columbia after refusing to rent their hall, located on church property, to a lesbian couple for their wedding celebration. The courts may rule that charter protection for religious freedom applies here.

But it is unlikely that those in the wedding industry, florists, photographers, musicians and caterers, have any protection for their freedom of conscience or religion. If approached by a gay or lesbian couple to provide services for their wedding, business owners cannot claim religious objections that would prevent them from providing their service. Refusal will undoubtedly provoke complaint under provincial human rights legislation.

Ted Byfield speaks of ominous possible effects of this legislation in his column in the August 8, 2005 issue of Western Standard magazine:

The effect of the bill will be to destroy the law’s traditional view of marriage and family, and replace it with the New Canada view. Whether churches can refuse to conduct gay marriages will, of course, be decided by the Supreme Court, which the New Canada has packed with judges who are ideologically pro-gay rights. Whether a teacher in a Christian school will be allowed to criticize homosexual practice, whether it will still be legal to read, in a church, biblical passages denouncing it, all these things will be decided by the court.

It’s remarkable, said Conservative leadership candidate Ted Morton last week, that a new drug is subjected to exhaustive tests to assess its effects. A proposed dam is studied for months, even years, to determine its environmental consequences. But Canada radically changes the legal definition of marriage and the family, the most central institution in any society, with no studies, no assessment of consequences, nothing.

Contemplating the “big picture” is Western Standard columnist, David Warren, a Toronto-based writer. In the May 2, 2005 issue he writes:

For their [the homosexual activists, MDV] aim goes beyond winning the right for gay couples to be married in civil courts. That might be a key battle, but the war is for bigger stakes.

It is for bigger stakes even than “gay rights.” The real war, invisible to mainstream media blindly engaged on one side of a movable front line, is between those defending the unambiguously Christian principles that underlay the society we inherited, and those seeking their destruction.

The usurping power is a negative; I think the purest negative yet encountered in the history of the West. Even Communism maintained a few, tawdry, positive ideals. There are no ideals in its successor ideology. In the name of undefined “human rights,” a campaign of destruction is being waged against faith, family and freedom. In the name of “multiculturalism,” the moral basis not only of the native Christian, but of every immigrant culture, is being eviscerated.

It is no accident that it is impossible to put a name to this usurping power: for it represents nihilism. Its motive force is unidentifiable, because this is the purest narcissism. Its ambition is a universal tyranny of some kind of “human rights Gestapo.” And it works towards this ambition through the very collapse of the Christian order it seeks to replace with an anti-order.

One might debate Warren’s assertion that unambiguously Christian principles underlay Canadian society, but historically those principles were largely moral and in harmony with Scripture. But Warren is, I believe, wrong when he contends “that it is impossible to put a name to this usurping power….” For us the name ought to be clear. It is not merely a matter of being “anti-order” but ANTI-CHRISTIAN! This is an aspect of the development of the anti-christian kingdom that we know is coming (Matt. 24II Thess. 2Rev. 13).

“Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred three-score and six” (Rev. 13:18).