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When I was a kid in the Catholic church I remember that the priests and nuns took a vow of poverty. That is they put their obedience to God above monetary gain. That seemed like a noble thing to me. Of course I have come to realize that this vow of poverty did not mean that the Catholic clergy lived a lifestyle of the poor around them. They were provided a handsome house with a housekeeper/ cook to provide for them and when they retired there was a rather comfortable living arrangement for them to live out their lives.

A vow of poverty was just not the same as living in poverty. Even that being the case they are giving up much of the luxuries that are common in this world. I do admire them for that. I’m not sure if this vow is exclusively Catholic or if other denominations follow suit. I do know that the clergyman of the Lutheran church which I used to belong to was very well compensated for his efforts. His salary and benefits exceeded most in the congregation he served.

Maybe that is one of the problems that churches have when it comes to ministering to the poor. Many just have no idea what being poor is really about. A vow of poverty kind of makes sense for those who are teaching us that we are only visitors in the world and that our true home is in the next.

I am again an Apple computer guy so when I saw recently that Apple had won a court case against Samsung on their using things that Apple has patents on the thought of for the title above came quickly to mind. Many Christians seem to think that they have exclusive rights to who God is and what we are to believe about him. I believe I can say with some certainty that no one has exclusive patent rights on God.

When I was a Catholic in my early years the nuns and priests that taught me about God insisted that only Catholics would go to heaven. All other types of Christians including Lutherans, Baptists, Pentecostals, and the like and especially including all those “other” type religions will not be in heaven.  Even as a very young person this proclamation bothered me. Why would God send Johnny, who was my best friend but not a Catholic, to hell?  Johnny was probably the most caring person I knew so it pained me that he would spend an eternity in unquenchable fires!

Since those times back in the 1950’s Catholics have admitted, although very quietly it seems, that maybe others who believe in Jesus just might also earn heaven but still those “others” are bound for hell. Of course almost all of the different denominations think they alone  have an exclusive channel to God.  Everyone else only have a fuzzy vision of who God really is. As an adult in a Lutheran Bible study was told that Muslims, Hindi, Buddhists and everyone maybe even those Catholics are not praying to the same God we were. Their god was indeed a false god. This practice of each religious group excluding all the others has always troubled me.

I personally believe that everyone has access to the same God. My muslim brothers are praying to the same God as I am. Jesus said no one gets to heaven except through me but he didn’t say he wouldn’t let other religions come through him. Jesus is the gate-keeper but he didn’t say he was going to reject those who come to him on different paths.  Jesus was very much Jewish in his religious affiliation. If we want to exclude every religion that came after Jesus then we would also have to question whether Christians are allowed in heaven as that religious body never existed in his time.

I think it is pompous at best and deadly wrong at its worst to say I have exclusive rights to God. God is who he is and no one can ever fully fathom what is in his heart.  We all pray to the same God but with different man-made sets of beliefs.  Who is to say that other religions who happened to come after Jesus are not from God?  Please don’t insist that they are not because they are not mentioned in the Christian Bible. I just don’t buy that logic anymore….

We in the U.S. know that one of the primary foundations of our democracy is freedom of speech. That is being able to say something different from our leaders and not suffer serious consequences. In my opinion this is what has allowed our country to remain so strong over the centuries. Many times criticisms lead to change and though we might not realize it at that time that is good for us. It makes us better; it makes us stronger. Without freedom of speech I doubt our country we even exist today.

Anyone who has studied church history at all knows that it is not a democracy but instead has for most of its history a very vertical oriented top-heavy organization. When the leader of the church, or even most of his immediate underlings said something everyone was expected to quickly get in line with his words. Dissension is just not allowed.  Anyone who even hinted of a disagreement were quickly handled.  In the past anyone proclaimed a  heretic, which basically meant they didn’t agree with their leaders in some aspect, had all of their writings burned so they would not pollute the church.  And many followed their books into the flames.

Thank heaven at least in the last few centuries heretics are not so severely handled but that does not mean that they are not severely dealt with. Many think only of the Catholic church when they think of the power structures. No Catholic, especially the cardinals and bishops would go against anything that the Pope proclaims.  But this situation also occurs amongst the Protestant denominations as well.

If you even hint that you don’t agree with all the various creeds and statements given by your denomination’s leadership you will also be chastised or even kicked out. I know personally of a Lutheran minister who was brought back from an overseas mission and stripped of his sermon rights because he dared to join in prayer with those in other Christian groups.  It seems that most denominations and that includes the Catholic church (although they don’t like being called a denomination) just won’t accept any straying from the stated doctrine of their group. They all claim that it would stain their institutional purity. About the only denomination that I am aware of that doesn’t do this are the Quakers. But since they are adamantly opposed to creeds in general that seems a natural to them.

This lack of accepting fellowship with other Christians is one of the most serious problems causing the generally sharp decline in the institutional church.  Their arrogance in thinking that they are pure and others are not is driving away membership especially among the younger generations.  The emergent church movement, although not yet well-defined , generally prefer a very horizontal structure if they have a structure at all. Creeds and such are just not important to most of them.

I will be posting more about the emergent movement in the coming weeks. There are several books that are well worth the read if you are interested. I will be getting into that in later posts.

As some of you may know I recently was more or less forced to leave my church home of eight years because I publicly via this blog said I believe that the earth is more than 6,000 years old. The leadership of the denomination insists that this idea is heresy.  In that light it was interesting to note the article today about the Catholic church very publicly professed that they are no longer teaching creationism.  Here is an excerpt from that article and the URL to the source.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110106/lf_nm_life/us_pope_bigbang;_ylt=Atn4zJuRv18tpYCeKNJVh7is0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTFpdHBkcHJoBHBvcwMzNQRzZWMDYWNjb3JkaW9uX21vc3RfcG9wdWxhcgRzbGsDZ29kd2FzYmVoaW5k

Benedict and his predecessor John Paul have been trying to shed the Church’s image of being anti-science, a label that stuck when it condemned Galileo for teaching that the earth revolves around the sun, challenging the words of the Bible.

Galileo was rehabilitated and the Church now also accepts evolution as a scientific theory and sees no reason why God could not have used a natural evolutionary process in the forming of the human species.

The Catholic Church no longer teaches creationism — the belief that God created the world in six days as described in the Bible — and says that the account in the book of Genesis is an allegory for the way Godcreated the world.

The Galileo thing has been a constant millstone around the church’s neck in regard to science. It is nice to see that the biggest Christian denomination in the world has finally embraced God given scientific revelation. It is too bad that my previous church still stubbornly clings to the seven twenty four hour day theory.  Of course the Bible story is an allegory for what actually happened just as many of the other stories in the Bible are allegories. The people at the time these stories were written were just not ready for the full truth. With the stories being allegorical take nothing away from the message presented. To take a literal view of these stories  is myopic and hurting God’s kingdom on earth.