It is common place these days to hear Christians bemoan the imminent demise of Christianity from the cultural mainstream due to incessant frontal attacks by individuals and groups desiring to enthrone science, reason, technology and modernization as the epicenter of human existence. The common presupposition is that as secularization has increased, the Christian faith has become more and more “irrelevant” to human life. Atheists rub their hands with glee at their apparent ‘success’ in relegating the Christian faith and other religions to the background in their communities. Their irreverent vitriol against the sacred is deliberately becoming more shrill and militant. They mock Christians and ridicule them whenever they have the opportunity to do so. They claim that Christianity is an evil that should be completely uprooted from our culture so that it never germinates again. These hateful outbursts are fast gaining ground, particularly among young and tender minds in institutions of higher learning where most of the proponents of the death of Christianity occupy distinguished positions as faculty and advisers are. Their claim is indeed not without substance, particularly in the Western societies such as Canada, Australia and Europe where Christianity has indeed lost its significance as the referent point for critical individual and corporate moral decisions and laws. Positivistic law has become normative as secularization has gained ground. In these nations, the churches, cathedrals and other edifices that once were venues for vibrant spiritual activities and worship, have now been reduced to mere tourist attractions for those who are fascinated by their architectural uniqueness and beauty. According to Dinesh D’Souza, in 2007, only about 10 to 25% of the populace attended church regularly in Europe. The percentage could be even lower by now. However, the global picture is not as dismal and there are still some nations even in Europe that still regard belief in God as an important part of their socio-cultural structure. The findings of research conducted in 40 countries by Katie Simmons of Pew Research Center Survey between 2011 and 2013 claim that:
• 49% of Greeks believe that it is necessary to believe in God;
• 44% of Polish people believe the same;
In the United States, 53% of people believe it is important to believe in God.
But the state of Christianity cannot be judged by its Western picture alone. Christianity is now a world-wide faith and there are statistics from other continents and nations where the growth of Christianity is literally explosive.
The Pew Research findings further claim that the following percentages of populations in the nations listed below believe that it is necessary to believe in God:
• 99% in Indonesia;
• 93% in the Philippines;
• 98% in Egypt;
• 94% in Jordan;
• 99% in Ghana;
• 93% in El Salvador;
• 86% in Brazil;
• 75% in South Africa.
Atheists claim that these nations believe in God because they lag behind in scientific education and understanding. In other words, they still cling on to God because of poverty and “ignorance” of natural laws and their role in explaining the phenomena attributed to God. Although it is true that in materially wealthier nations, the emphasis on belief in God is waning, Americans stand out as more likely to indicate that belief in God is important. Although there is a notable decline in religious belief in the nation, still a significant number of people in American continue to believe that faith in God is important for good morals and values (54% of them as if Spring of 2014). This belief is significantly pronounced among Mormons and Catholics (and other faiths) who by no means constitute the poor and ignorant segments of the American population. Food for thought, huh? Americans also tend to be more positive and upbeat about life than their counterparts in other developed nations.
In the developing world, people link faith to morality and good values as well. As the West separates itself from God, South America, Africa, and Asia have embraced Christianity in an unprecedented manner, regardless of a cacophony of mocking critiques. Amazingly, in spite of governmental stringent restrictions on religion, over 100 million Chinese people have embraced Christianity. Church membership in China goes as high as 750,000 people worshipping in underground churches! The church in China will soon be (if it is not already) the fastest growing church in the world. At the same time the 2014 Proceedings from the National Academy of Sciences report that China is significantly rising as a major contributor to science and technology. So, how can a nation whose populace is fast turning to Christianity become a major science and technology power block, simultaneously, if Christianity is a religion that truncates the intellect?
In developing nations (and they are developing), the socio-economic portrait of Bible times resonates with the daily experiences of the people. They also contend with poverty and hunger. Some of them still suffer from leprosy and health conditions such as blindness are rife among them. These are the same conditions that were prevalent during the time of Jesus.
The continent of Africa was only 10% Christian in 1900, but in 2007 it was 50%, says D’Souza. South Korea is second only to the United States as far as sending out missionaries is concerned. Interestingly enough, this explosive growth took place after the yoke of colonization and imperialism was broken. While churches are closing and being sold in Western nations, Asian and African churches are bursting at the seams with new converts. It is not unusual for pastors to preside over a minimum of 10 churches in these societies. The challenge is not how to bring in converts. The challenge is how to disciple these large masses of people coming to Christ in droves, and how to find enough churches to accommodate them. Christianity is no longer a regional religion. It has grown into a world or global faith. Overall, the face of Christianity has evolved tremendously. It is now coming in an assortment of shades of brown, yellow and black from every nation, kindred, and tongue, literally. Some of them have gone to Western countries as missionaries. On June 11, 2007, the Washington Post reported that there were 250 and 150 churches in Britain and Denmark, respectively that were being run by foreign ministers-missionaries from the developing world proclaiming the Gospel to their Western brothers and sisters. This could be the beginning of a counter move against the onslaught of secularization in the West. To claim that secularization has triumphed over Christianity is really a fallacy when perceived from a global standpoint. Interestingly, atheists whose literary work derides anything to do with Christianity (and other religions) often adopt Christian terminology and phraseology. One of their champions, Friedrich Nietzsche, titled his biography Ecce Homo-Behold the Man-a phrase he borrowed from the words used by Pilate when he presented Jesus to the murderous throng on the eve of his passion. Then there is the use of the word ‘secular’ which was a coinage of Christians, as Wolfhart Panenberg asserts. In the Catholic faith, the word secular applies to a priest whose calling is to live among ordinary people. Separation of state and state is not a secular concept or proposition. Rather, it is a by-product of Christian teaching coming straight from Jesus Himself: “Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s,” (Matthew 22:21, KJV).
Because secularization leaves in its wake a dire need for finding purpose and meaning in the lives of its advocates, it inadvertently ends up leaving room for religion, a God-shaped vacuum. If indeed Jesus is God, Christianity will continue to thrive and to survive its pall-bearers, no matter what.
“They took two such cows and hitched them to the cart and penned up their calves. 11 They placed the ark of the Lord on the cart and along with it the chest containing the gold rats and the models of the tumors. 12 Then the cows went straight up toward Beth Shemesh, keeping on the road and lowing all the way; they did not turn to the right or to the left. The rulers of the Philistines followed them as far as the border of Beth Shemesh,” (1 Samuel 6:10-13).
Priests served as theocratic mediators between God and man in ancient Israel. They also performed sacerdotal functions according to divine laws and statutes. Any decadence in the priestly office portended individual and corporate retribution and punishment. An apostate and weak priesthood disrupted the relationship between God and the people, and caused the people to turn to idolatry and superstition. This was the case during the Priest Eli’s priestly tenure. Eli’s sons desecrated the people’s offering and their sacrifices, and Eli did practically nothing to stop them. They abused their authority in the sanctuary and committed abominations before the Lord with impunity, and they caused the people to transgress.
When war broke out between Philistia and Israel, God allowed Israel to be defeated by their enemies who also captured the Ark of the Covenant, which represented the immediate presence and glory of God. Eli died that same day and so did his two sons and daughter-in-law. Israel had attempted to confine God to a wooden box and treated the Ark superstitiously as an object to be used to their advantage during crises. It was a fatal mistake. The Philistines thought they could capture the God of Israel and exalt their idols over Him. Another fatal mistake. This God abounds in cosmic freedom: heaven is His throne and the earth His footstool. Nothing and nobody can harness His omnipotence. When placed face to face with the Ark, the Philistine idol fell face down before the Ark. They tried to re-set it in its place and the next morning the idol was flat on its face. This time with its head and hands severed from its torso on the threshold. “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me,” (Exodus 20:3) is the eternal commandment. The Lord God is incomparable. He has no competition.
In the 7 months the Ark was in Philistia, the men suffered inexplicable deaths and an epidemic of what the Bible terms ‘tumors’ broke out. The Philistines suspected that the capture of the Ark of the Covenant was a causative factor for all the deaths and illnesses. They decided to conduct what they thought was an impossible experiment to validate their suspicions and to test the power of God. They would return the Ark, unmanned. They yoked two milk cows. That is, cows with calves. They chose two milk cows, shup up the calves, yoked them, and hitched them to the cart to take the Ark and some gold offerings to Beth Shemesh in Israel. Cows, like any other animal are fiercely protective of their calves, particularly if one attempts to separate them from them. Cows are not as placid or docile as they are usually depicted in fairy tales. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims that 20 people are killed each year by cows in the United States alone. Meddling with their calves can be a disastrous endeavor. If not properly handled, milk cows can disrupt the entire milking process.
Milk cows were never yoked in antiquity, only oxen were yoked. These animals could not be yoked to perform a task unless they were first tamed otherwise they could react violently to being confined to a yoke, even to the extent of goring the person attempting to yoke them. They naturally resent such forced confinement. It takes months of hard work and patience to tame animals for the yoke, under normal circumstances. In this case, however, the cows willingly submitted to the yoke. These animals had never been to Beth Shemesh before. They were Philistine cows. None of the lords of the Philistines volunteered to guide them or to lead them toward Beth Shemesh. This was part of the test. However, the cows directed themselves into the road that led to Beth Shemesh. The Philistine lords followed them to the border. They did not go before them to lead them. The animals led the way. Even tame oxen plowing as a span in familiar fields need someone to go before them to guide them. But not these milk cows. They made their way to Israel. No one dared ambush them on the way, no predator attacked them for prey. They never veered off the road to graze or to look for water. They set out for Beth Shemesh, lowing as they went.
When the people of Beth Shemesh lifted up their eyes, a spectacular sight met their gaze. Two cows steadily drew toward them, unguided, pulling their sacred cargo, the Emblem of God’s presence. The cows headed straight for the field of someone called Joshua and stopped there, and waited for the Levites to take down the Ark of the Lord. They had completed their task. Our sovereign God does not need to be defended by human beings nor can He be captured by them. He defends Himself and His own. Natural laws bow down in obeisance before Him. A God who can direct animals through old, bumpy roads, meandering through dense forests of antiquity, can easily find the way for you and I through the detours and maze of 21st century life on earth. How great is our God!