Saturday, 28 November 2015

WWE and Christianity

I am a long-time fan of professional wrestling. Last year I wrote a blog for a wrestling website where I linked WWE and Christianity. The link to that article isn't working anymore. Hence, I am uploading the same article here. Hope you like it....

Ever since Stone Cold Steve Austin laced a pair of boots, he was destined for success.

We are talking about a man who was the highest revenue generator for the company, and the one who was inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame by none other than the boss himself.

But there is one paradox in the story of the Texas Rattlesnake that often goes unnoticed.

It was King Of The Ring 1996, right around the time when WCW came up with the NWO storyline and officially started the Monday Night Wars. Bret Hart was to leave the company, and Shawn Michaels was to be injured. They needed a star to become the face of the brand, and they found it in Austin.

But he was unlike Hulk Hogan, Hart, or John Cena. He was not a clean-cut family guy. He drank beer, cursed people, and showed no respect for authority. Most of all, he committed sacrilege.

Yes, Austin committed sacrilege. I might go on as far to say the entire Austin brand is based on a mockery of religion. I fail to understand why people don't call it sacrilege.

First I quote SLAM! Sports to show that it’s not my analysis that the whole Austin 3:16 catchphrase was a catalyst to the success of Steve, and whatever happened in pro-wrestling after that:

…..Austin won the annual pay-per-view tournament. But the biggest step towards superstardom was still to come. As Doc Hendrix conducted a post-match promo with the new King of the Ring, Austin demeaned Roberts' "born again" gimmick stating that unlike the biblical verse John 3:16, "Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your *ss!" A catchphrase was born that soon appeared on T-shirts, hats and anything else the WWE could manufacture.

Wikipedia also says something similar.

Now read what a Christian website had to say on the matter:

Another icon among wrestling fans is known as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, who revels in taunting and mocking the Christian faith.
Ted DiBiase… bemoans Austin’s standard performances of beer guzzling, bellowing profanity, and flashing obscene gestures …..He also notes that 6 million Austin 3:16 T-shirts have been sold in this country. Austin’s newest shirt states “‘DO UNTO OTHERS’ ” with a coiled rattlesnake ready to strike- and thus presents Jesus’ words as a perverse reason to initiate acts of aggression.
You get the point.

But there is another wrestler who could manage to pose nude and profane a country’s flag while still being a fan favorite. I am of course talking about Shawn Michaels. The Christian website didn’t mention HBK in their article criticizing the negative impact of WWE.

Why? Because Shawn Michaels is a Christian, and WWE let him portray this character on screen. As I noted in my article on sports:

His controversial career in the WWE almost came to end in 98’ when he suffered an injury that forced him to stay out of action. During this time, he professed faith in Christianity…..He made his comeback 2002, adorning a T-shirt with Philippians 4:13 on it: ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’His return as a born-again Christian was also ‘received with delight as evidenced by the deafening screams of the entire stadium’.


This is the paradox I am talking about, where one wrestler mocks religion and the other one adorns it. But not only does the crowd accept both characters unconditionally, both go on to become Hall of Famers.

It is a paradox that when Jake Roberts is a Christian and makes reference to his faith, the crowd cheers Austin who makes fun of it. But when Michaels is a Christian and ‘God’ is on his side, the crowd cheers for him.

The ultimate irony is that a born again Christian launched Austin’s career in the WWE, while another one (kayfabe) ended his career! I am of course referring to Survivor Series 2003.

WWE writers chose to give the ‘responsibility of saving Austin’s job at Raw’ to the kind of person he mocked to become popular in 96’. The audience didn’t question the contradiction, just as they didn’t question Undertaker’s motorbike gimmick.

Why? Because Taker, Austin, and HBK are great wrestlers. Their in-ring abilities, and the willingness to bleed for the crowds overshadow the particular character they are playing at the moment.

For this precise reason, I do not share the views of Dibiase and the Good Fight Ministries and will continue to watch pro-wrestling, despite being a committed Christian. And that is precisely why Christians like Guerrero, Michaels, and Sting manage to reconcile their beliefs with what they did best.

Some Christian 'ministries' and 'scholars' try to look for satanism and conspiracy in popular media, but they just fail to see the big picture. Shawn Michaels gave his testimony on WWE television. That is as good as it gets. 

Sunday, 15 November 2015

The Elijah Enigma

Elijah is one of the most inspiring characters in the Bible and one of my personal heroes of faith. Yet, the man continues to remain an enigma, and because of him, I have changed many interpretations of key Biblical texts during my research.

You see, most of us only have a surface-level understanding of the Bible. Or, to put it more accurately, the interpretations of many key passages affects the way we read them.

For example, was Elijah literally taken up to heaven, or is it just another way of saying that he died?

You may be surprised to discover that there is a mountain of Biblical evidence to support the latter assertion. Off the top of my head, I can think of the following reasons:

  • Jesus categorically said "No one has ever gone into heaven except" Him (John 3:13)   
  • Why was Elisha mourning if his master was being taken up alive?
  • Why is the same language used to denote the death of Elisha? (2 Kings 13:14)

Just when you think you have conclusively established Elijah's death, we also read of his return (Malachi 4:5-6). Now if the traditional Christian understanding is true, then we can reconcile the death of Elijah with the ministry of John the Baptist, as the latter fulfills the prophecy of Elijah's return.

But then, John's denial leaves us perplexed that he is not Elijah (John 1:21)!

Also note that Malachi says that Elijah is coming " before that great and dreadful day of the LORD". Is this the first coming or the second coming of the Messiah? The Bible is not clear. And then you find the 2 witnesses in Revelation 11, who look suspiciously like Elijah (stopping rain, defeating enemies with fire etc.)

Maybe the transfiguration was Elijah's coming before the Lord, which once again negate the traditional association with John the Baptist. But if Elijah and Moses both appear in the transfiguration, then are they both alive, or both dead??

None of these questions can be conclusively answered, IMHO. What we can say for sure is that Elijah was a mighty voice of God in tyrannical reign of Ahab and Jezebel, but the influence of his ministry, his legacy, extends far beyond his time and even shows its mark in the New Testament. And maybe, just maybe, he will also have to do something with the end times as well.

What a man, what a ministry!


Saturday, 7 November 2015

The Case for Church Membership

When you talk to fellow believers, especially the younger lot, they seem to be discontent with the church, and the reasons are all too many. Financial and moral corruption of the leadership, the hypocritical and often hostile attitude of the congregation members, a dry spirituality, and a lack of intellectual stimulation. 


Now I am not saying that these reasons are not genuine. I will be the first one to concede the problems of organized religion (including Christianity).

But the issue I want to raise is whether any problem in the Church is big enough to warrant departure from it. Many people have stopped going to church on Sunday, and they cite one or more of these reasons.

Others engage in church-hopping, switching from one church to another because the worship, preaching, or fellowship in their former congregation was not spiritually appealing.

In my humble opinion, neither of these actions are justified.  

It was Eleanor Roosevelt who said “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people”.

The more we fret over people and events, the more we will feel disheartened with any church that we go to. What you should do instead is examine the underlying theology of church membership. This will help your think more positively about your respective parish, IMHO.

The theology of the Church is a vast topic, but we can make things simple by thinking it in terms of what we know about ourselves as Christian believers. The church, after all, is a collection of individual Christians. Hence, any church, in the ultimate analysis, will mirror the experience of the individual Christians that worship there.

So who is a Christian? In the most basic definition, a Christian is a person who follows the teachings of Jesus Christ. In theological terms, she is a sinner who has been regenerated by faith in Jesus and by the work of the Holy Spirit. There is an ongoing battle inside her between sin and holiness, which continues till her last breath.  At no point can a Christian say “I have achieved perfection” (1 John 1:8), but with every passing moment, she continues her quest for holiness through the forgiveness offered by Jesus (1 John 1:9-10).


The same theology can be safely extrapolated to the Church. It is a corporate entity that is collectively being regenerated by a collective faith in Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit. And like the individual Christian, a church can never claim perfection at any point. 

In fact, the idea of a ‘perfect church’ (or a perfect denomination or even a perfect system of theology) is a false one. And we have enough examples to point that out.

Consider the implications of the use of ‘Church of God’ for the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 1:2), a congregation divided over charismatic gifts, politics, and sexual immorality. This means that existence of such vices doesn’t cause a congregation to lose its status as the ‘Church of God’. This is because Christ died to redeem this body of believers, and will continue to purify it through His sacrifice (Ephesians 5:26-27).

The conclusion? Your church is the ‘Church of God’. Deal with it!

Instead of leaving the church, you should work towards improving it. The New Testament Epistles give us practical advice on how this can be done. For example, when both Jews and ‘pagans’ converted to Christianity in the 1st century, controversy arose over which dietary laws to follow.

We have clear indication from the Bible that the dietary laws found in the Torah were for the people of God who were living in one geographical location. But when the people of God were commanded to go to the ends of the earth, laws of such nature were relaxed (Acts 10:9-16).

But since old habits die hard, the former Jews who now entered the Church insisted that everyone should follow the dietary laws of the Old Testament. To end the schism, the Apostles called the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15).

There are important lessons for us today. For instance, the Jerusalem Council shows us that the greatest issues can be resolved through dialogue. However, we know that the solution wasn’t really successful in the long run, for the teachings of Judaizers existed in some form throughout Church history and even exist today. So, another lesson is that even with the best of leadership, there will always be black sheep in the church that will try to corrupt it. Don’t always blame the clergy.

Finally, avoid confrontation, especially with your pastor. Paul confronted and rebuked Peter (Galatians 2:11), but only because he was an Apostle, i.e. he carried an official badge of authority recognized in the Church. Yet most of the people pointing out the flaws in their church will never join the clergy or the administration.

So, if you are having a hard time going to church every Sunday, here are few tips that will help you out:

1. Know your Reason
Why did you join the church in the first place? Was it because of your family, or your personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Remember that only a personal experience with God can help you live among and counsel immature believers. Just look at Moses!


2. Pray
Jesus prayed for the Church (John 17) and so should you.

3. Talk it Out
Talk to your pastor about any particular issues you are having. If you are not satisfied, ask other people in the clergy. Talk to the choir and youth leaders, and senior members of the congregation. Don’t base your eternal destiny on consultation with half a dozen people.

4. Be Humble
You may be the most mature and professional person in your church, but arguing with and looking down upon people hardly resolves anything. If you truly want your church to reform, you should work towards it in a spirit of humility (Read Psalm 131)

5. Join the Clergy
Last but not least, make things official and join the clergy. Try to get theological certification, and join the church hierarchy, even if in a limited capacity. Remember, some people will never listen to a layman on religious matters, so you might want to move to other side of the pulpit.

Good Luck!

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