Friday, March 25, 2011

Dazed and Confused: American Christianity

Note on the picture: I will one day take an axe to all pithy church signs everywhere. You can count on it.

"We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them." - Paul trying not to be confused with Zeus
I was reminded yesterday of the fact I live in America, the land that has taken Christianity and formed it into a religion all its own. What I see on TV, on the internet and in our Christian culture is such a mixed up hodge-podge blend of American pragmatism, materialism and religion.

Now I don't want this to be a bashing session in which I unload all of my baggage in self-righteous indignation towards American Christianity. What I do want to do is see more clearly how I have bought into this mutated religion that is not Christ-like in any form. Here are a few personal beliefs to get warmed up:

I believe that if I'm a good boy and go to church, I will be blessed.

I believe that if I work really hard and am really responsible, God will be pleased.

I believe that those who have money have been blessed by God.

I believe that I will have a successful ministry if I just follow the right models.

I believe that I can do it, because I'm an American...

As you can see, I'm in trouble, and I can hardly believe what I believe. It's so silly. What does wealth, ministry models and nationality have to do with following Christ. Nothing. Let me say it again so I'll believe it: Nothing!

God didn't bless America to the exclusion of other countries and cultures. I do believe that God has blessed America with democracy, freedom and some other things. But in this sense he's blessed many a country. We are certainly not the focus of his blessing, the new Israel.

And these days, I'm not so proud to be an American. I'm not so proud to be a human. Since I'm bigoted, shallow and selfish I have fashioned a Christianity all of my own making. Will it save? Absolutely not. Will it maintain the status-quo? Certainly.

But the radical nature of the kingdom is totally different than the Christianity we see in our culture. I've suspected this for a long time, but it's mostly just made me prideful, self-righteous, critical and unhelpful. It's easier to be critical than helpful. I want to serve the church, but maybe first I need to get on board with God's business of reforming it.

I don't like radical Christianity. It makes me think of social activism, which I'm totally scared of. But Jesus was a radical with a radical message. A hard message. A message of hope for the down-trodden and a message of impending wrath and judgement for the oppressor and for the comfortable.

I don't have to look far for comfortable Christians. I don't have to gaze beyond my own navel. I need reform. I need Jesus. I need ministry. I need fierce and penetrating repentance through the work of the Spirit. As John the Baptist says, "the ax is at the root!"

I live in the South, so everywhere I look I see Christians. As I'm typing this two old ladies are praying beside me. "Firm believers in a vague religion," as a friend of mine likes to say. And I worry. I worry that who I am and what I believe is not wed more to my culture than to Christ. I worry that what I will pass on to my children is just a plastic image of the real thing. I don't want to give my kids plastic Jesus action figures, I want to point them to the real guy.

As Paul says to the Corinthians, "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith."

As you can see, I need the Gospel to reshape my thinking and my attitude. What I see in American Christianity makes me sick. But unfortunately I suspect it makes me sick more because of my own theological biases and doctrinal superiority than for the humble reason that we aren't following Christ.

I'm tired as well. Even as I write, I'm feeling pretty grumpy. Disillusioned. And it's a Friday too. How can this happen on a Friday? Maybe because I'm catching a glimpse of the distance between my religion and the way of Life. They are miles apart.

Today I must rest in Jesus. I must rest in the one who has the power to reform. I must rest in the one who bridged the gap for me, enabling me to be a son. Only from a place of peace and intimacy with Jesus will I be a helpful critic of our culture. And only there will I find direction for this tired old soul of mine.

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner..."

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