Eliciting much sympathy for the American church is hard. It seems we have been blessed with more widespread freedom, leisure, and resources than any other geopolitically-defined group in Christian history. While brothers and sisters in Christ starve physically and endure persecution socially in places like North Korea, Pakistan, Somalia, and others, we sit, seemingly fat and fit.
But, while we are indeed physically fat, we are not spiritually fit. When the Christian best-sellers list is filled, year after year, with gussied-up, pseudo-spiritual, self-help titles in which a bible verse actually quoted in context is as rare as the Western Plains Jackalope, we’ve got a problem. When our chief spiritual export to the world is a false gospel that says to the less-fortunate, “if you have enough faith, God will give you the kind of life we enjoy by the accident of our having been born in the land of the free and the home of the brave,” we’re sharing that problem. When both our pastors and the people they lead are more concerned with propping up a corrupt system of government than promoting the kingdom of Christ, we’ve crossed a line.
I know, I know: it’s not all bad. Incredible things are happening through various American churches, organizations, and individuals. But the primary weight of our collective Christianity is mired in a bog of spiritual apathy and ineptitude. The few still pulling us towards Christ are hampered, if not stymied, by that life-sucking weight.
What happened? How did all of our apparent advantages lead to this mind-boggling situation?
One reason is that we have an enemy and he convinced us that we could follow Jesus and live the American dream.
That Jesus could be our King and our lifestyle remain unchanged.
That so long as we prayed a prayer, sang some songs, and dropped 10% in the plate each Sunday, we could do what we wanted with the rest of our life.
That the needs of our brothers and sisters could be matters of prayer and not matters of sacrifice.
That our churches could glorify God even as they promoted their brand.
That concern for the poor is now the government’s job as we stuff our coffers and bedazzle our sanctuaries.
And it’s killing us. The lie that we can serve both God and money [or political power] is driving the American church over the cliff and into oblivion.
American Christians are certainly not the first in history to believe, erroneously, that we could have all the benefits of both this world and of the next. But we have mastered the art of trying.
We have stripped the call of Christ of its cost.
We have proclaimed the grace that saves while ignoring the fact that the same grace must sanctify.
We have dreamed up a discipleship full of instruction but freed from obedience.
More and more, I am convinced that the only hope for us, the American church, is to repent of our futile double-mindedness and return to the historical, biblical faith.
To recognize that,
“when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Bonhoeffer
To proclaim that while
“faith alone saves, the faith that saves is never alone.” Calvin
To reinstate biblical discipleship:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…(and) teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Jesus
Let’s recapture the self-sacrificing, self-denying, others-seeking ethos of King Jesus and his kingdom and leave behind the self-promoting, self-satisfying, and others-ignoring lifestyle of our culture.
Let’s ditch the American Dream before Jesus ditches us.