Sunday, June 29, 2014
The Crises of American Christianity
Over the past twenty to thirty years there has been a phenomenal shift in how the term Christian has come to be defined in American culture. Like it or not, leaders, pastors, professors, teachers, and mature believers are being forced to defend and define the basic teachings of Jesus Christ and His apostles that have been preserved in Sacred Scripture. The lack of rigor that is in our processes around those we bring into the community as members, and those we baptize, and those we send off to seminary and ordain has had grave consequences for the body of Christ at large. We are now left with the hard work or repairing the damage that is has been done and of instituting processes and practices that ensure we do not repeat this mistake again.
There is a very large movement in American Christianity to dispense with any hint of internal holiness within the Christian community. As far as American Christianity is concerned, there are no rules, no lists, and no laws by which Christians are to conduct their lives. In theological terms, we call this view antinomianism. While it has been around a very long time, it has never been the dominant view and has always been soundly rejected by the Church. However, in recent times there has been an astonishing explosion of antinomianism in American Christianity. There is a prevailing idea that one can be a genuine Christian possessing genuine faith without any reference at all to their ethical behavior. Young professing American Christians have entered the Church and the pulpit and the seminaries with a preconceived idea of what they want Christianity to be and they are on a mission to reshape it top to bottom at all costs. Indeed, their efforts heretofore have been relentless. And because their doctrines are so attractive to the naturally rebellious mind and to immoral vice, they have been received with vigor by the world. Their churches are exploding everywhere. Indeed, there is an antinomian revival of mammoth proportions sweeping across America today unlike anything we have ever witnessed in modern times.
The God of Scripture, who is sovereign over all the affairs of men is now referred to by these young Christians as a moral monster simply because they detest the idea of His sovereignty. He has been replaced with a fluffy, permissive, weak American daddy or grandpa projection of their own making. The God of historic, biblical Christianity is summarily rejected. The Church has had it wrong.
In American Christianity, Jesus Christ was not the Prophet, Priest, and King proclaimed by the Church but the friend of the perverse kind of sinners, having come to party with them and accept them just as they are without any demand for repentance or change in their lifestyles. In this version of Christianity, Jesus never told the woman taken in adultery NOT to sin again. He merely did not condemn her and that is where the story ends. American Christianity has a very bad habit of not telling the whole story. It picks and chooses only those components that are convenient in order to support its utopian idea of what Christianity simply has to be in their opinion.
American Christianity has a range of views it finds tolerable concerning the Bible. It is a good book with some good things to teach us. However, the doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy and infallibility are mocked in nearly every camp. Scripture itself is not our final authority for faith and practice. And where inspiration is not mocked, a hermeneutic is adopted that basically nullifies that sacred doctrine reducing it to meaningless nonsense. Authors of Scripture are brazenly viewed as biased, ignorant, and primitive men that were not as sophisticated as we are and therefore not qualified to write about some of the issues they wrote about, at least not where modern man is concerned. Science and reason is the bar by which their writings must be judged. A six-day creation is incredibly naïve. A woman’s right to abortion is a matter of modern freedom and medical science. Marriage is an outdated idea whose day has come and gone. Sex outside of marriage is perfectly moral so long as you love the other person or feel love toward the other person. Gay sex and gay marriage are perfectly natural, healthy, and acceptable. Illicit divorce is not even a term that makes sense in American Christianity. The very concept of Church discipline is repugnant to these groups. And if there were any that believe in discipline, the only person likely to be subjected to it would be a person of genuine faith. The supernatural components of Scripture are up for grabs; believe them if you want or reject them if you want. It has no bearing on your faith.
The soteriology of American Christianity is purely rationalistic and natural. There simply is no supernatural component to salvation in that system. The idea of regeneration and the concept of being reborn are mere conventions in American Christianity. According to this new version of Christianity, you can be a Christian simply by saying you are a Christian. Nothing else has to change. There is no “proving your faith” within American Christianity. Such a notion is critical and judgmental and unloving. Love just accepts everyone the way they are without any conditions.
Now, before I proceed to close this article by advancing my belief that Christians are actually different and the Bible tells us they are, I need to say a thing or two about the neo-fundamentalist version of Christianity, which is at the other end of the pendulum. The old-fashioned fundamentalists had more lists than you could count that Christians had to follow to the letter in order to be considered “Christian.” You could not go to movies. You could not go to the beach. You can only listen to gospel music. You must tithe. You better have a good reason for not being in Church on Sunday and in case you are not aware of it, there is no good reason. The list of the fundamentalist seems unending. Neo-fundamentalists are different but operate on the same sort of principle. They set up standards that they claim are based on biblical principles and if you do not follow them, you are viewed as sinning, falling short, not committed to serving, selfish, and more. The neo-fundamentalist may not question your salvation or classify you as a less committed Christian, but they sure know how to create an atmosphere of guilt. As far as the neo-fundamentalist is concerned, it does not matter what you do or how busy you are, it is never enough. Thank God for liberty, for freedom, and for the grace of God that is in Christ Jesus.
Now, back to the issue at hand. According to the Bible, genuine faith makes a real difference in the life of the Christian. James asks the question, “what good is it if someone has faith but has no works?” The answer is it is useless. Yet, American Christianity contends that there is no relationship between being a Christian and having a radically changed heart and life. James explicitly disagrees. He goes on to say that faith without works is a dead faith. Someone may boast that they faith but James says they have no way to prove their faith. In other words, faith is not a phantom. Faith makes its presence known. We show our faith or lack of faith in our works. James says that a person who believes that faith existence where works do not is a foolish person. This is how a NT person would say, “you are a stupid man.” Just as Abraham’s faith was a justifying faith seen in his response to God by offering Isaac, so too Christian faith is a justifying faith seen in our response to the gospel of Christ. This involves the turning away from a wicked life to a life defined by righteous thought and good deeds. While these good deeds are not the cause of our justification, it also holds that the kind of faith that does not produce then also does not justify. James says that genuine faith produces works.
John tells us that the sons of righteous and the sons of the devil are obvious, plain for anyone to see. Those who live a life defined by righteousness are sons of God and those who life a life defined by lawlessness are sons of the devil. It is not difficult to see the difference. The point here is that the Bible most certainly teaches that there is a difference, a remarkable difference between how a Christian carries on their life and how the world carries on their life. While we must do all we can to avoid turning Christianity into a dirge of righteous demands and requirements too heavy for anyone to bear, we must also acknowledge that the work of God in the human heart truly produces a real change that is visible for all to see. And for that we should give God the praise and glory for He is the one who works in us to do His good pleasure according to His kind intentions which He has in Christ Jesus.