Reflections on American Christians

I’m concerned about what I see in the contemporary Christian church. I certainly don’t have all the answers and don’t want to give that impression. But when I read the thoughts expressed by some of my Christian brothers and sisters in social media, as well as those of acknowledged ‘leaders in the church’ that sometimes show up in the mainstream media, my reaction runs from concerned to dumbfounded, since I can find nothing in the Bible to validate them.

This post/rant was inspired/triggered by something a Christian friend posted on Facebook. Now, Facebook is hardly worthy of being considered reputable source material, since most of its postings run from abysmal to self-indulgent to tolerable, with just enough thoughtful material to keep one from unfriending the world and cancelling their account. This particular offering began: “I am SICK AND TIRED of seeing: Christianity smeared; traditional marriage destroyed; good people mocked for believing Jesus Christ”. Up to that point I had no significant problems with the sentiment. However, the proposed solution was something akin to fingernails on a chalkboard. “If Christianity is to survive in America, it’s time we start standing up and speaking out against people and organizations that disrespect us!”.

Stuff like this doesn’t make me mad as much as it saddens me tremendously. How did the Christian church wander so far afield from what we were intended to be? I find no evidence in Scripture that we are to concern ourselves with defending against negative public opinion. If anything the New Testament teaches exactly the opposite. You don’t have to travel any further than the Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Matthew chapter five  to see a very different perspective.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” – 5:10

“But I say to you, ‘Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” – 5:39

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons [and daughters-CJS] of your Father in heaven.” -5:43,44

Those three verses are a small sample of what the Bible says about what Christ expects from us as Christians. We are repeatedly told to expect rejection, trouble, and persecution because the world is not, and cannot be, compatible with the kingdom of God as embodied in the church. When Jesus stood trial before Pilate prior to being crucified, and Pilate asked him if he were a king (the accusation made against him), Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews.” (John 18:36) Jesus didn’t choose to defend himself against his accusers and he didn’t expect his followers to do so either.

There are just so many problems with the last statement of this Facebook post  it’s hard to know where to begin. I won’t pretend to be able to answer/refute all of the implications of that statement. Instead, I would offer a few questions of my own:

  • If the existence of Christianity in America is dependent on Christians becoming belligerents in a war of words against those who most virulently oppose them, what does that say about their faith in God’s ability to sustain His church and assure His message is carried throughout the world, or even the United States? Or for that matter, about their faith in God himself?
  • What happens to Christianity if America doesn’t survive? How would the collapse of this nation impact the life and message of the church? (As reference, a study of early Christianity and the collapse of the Roman Empire might be interesting and instructive)
  • What might happen if Christians actually attempted to live out the teaching of Jesus and the apostles? If we honestly emptied ourselves of our own selfish desires, agendas, and preconceptions, and sought to be the image of Christ? Do we believe we could expect the same result as what occurred in the early church?

The Facebook post is a thinly veiled political statement, reflecting how the Christian church has been sadly corrupted in this country by connecting faith to patriotism and nationalism. Salvation by grace through faith alone has become salvation through faith plus allegiance to the correct political party, belief in America as God’s chosen nation, and vocally condemning any group or individual that may question or espouse anything different. We seek salvation through political power, apparently because we doubt the power of the gospel. It’s self-righteousness and self glorification at its worst.

Seeking to have good moral leadership is commendable. But advocating that the survival of Christianity is dependent on vocally browbeating the opposition into submission is no different than what we claim is being done to us. It leaves no room for God’s control and power. Or his glory. It denies the teaching of overcoming evil with good. It emphasizes our rights and respect in place of pointing to Jesus and his message of hope, a hope of salvation extended to all, even those who treat ‘us’ shamefully (and who we may think don’t deserve it). I would suggest a slightly different slant to the last statement: “If Christianity is to survive in America, it’s time we started standing up and BEING THE CHURCH, THE BODY OF CHRIST AS WRITTEN IN GOD’S WORD, THE BIBLE.”