The Truth About Western Christianity

Please, go read this article at Christianity Today. (Thanks to Daniel at Alien Soil for the link.) It's a powerful expose on modern western Christianity. Ronald J. Sider does an excelent job pointing out the hypocracy of what is called Christianity in the US today. Quoting many polls and other research, he points out that most Christians today are so in name only.

Scandalous behavior is rapidly destroying American Christianity. By their daily activity, most "Christians" regularly commit treason. With their mouths they claim that Jesus is Lord, but with their actions they demonstrate allegiance to money, sex, and self-fulfillment.

The findings in numerous national polls conducted by highly respected pollsters like The Gallup Organization and The Barna Group are simply shocking. "Gallup and Barna," laments evangelical theologian Michael Horton, "hand us survey after survey demonstrating that evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general."

This story from South Africa is simply disgusting.

Graham Cyster, a Christian whom I know from South Africa, recently told me a painful story about a personal experience two decades ago when he was struggling against apartheid as a young South African evangelical. One night, he was smuggled into an underground Communist cell of young people fighting apartheid. "Tell us about the gospel of Jesus Christ," they asked, half hoping for an alternative to the violent communist strategy they were embracing.

Graham gave a clear, powerful presentation of the gospel, showing how personal faith in Christ wonderfully transforms persons and creates one new body of believers where there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, rich nor poor, black nor white. The youth were fascinated. One seventeen-year-old exclaimed, "That is wonderful! Show me where I can see that happening." Graham's face fell as he sadly responded that he could not think of anywhere South African Christians were truly living out the message of the gospel. "Then the whole thing is a piece of sh—," the youth angrily retorted. Within a month he left the country to join the armed struggle against apartheid—and eventually giving his life for his beliefs.

The young man was right. If Christians do not live what they preach, the whole thing is a farce. "American Christianity has largely failed since the middle of the twentieth century," Barna concludes, "because Jesus' modern-day disciples do not act like Jesus."6 This scandalous behavior mocks Christ, undermines evangelism, and destroys Christian credibility.

If only they would have known: Since the mid 80's the church associated with mine, the Johannesburg Church of Christ, has been a racially diverse congregation. Blacks and whites, even under apartheid, worshiped together, in numbers proportionate to the population. Why is this the exception rather than the rule? And why, in the racially sensitive USA, is a church of mixed races so rare?

He goes on to decry our standards in giving & materialism (more on that later), in lifestyle, in sexuality and in marriage. The bottom line is that the only difference between most "Christians" and others is the name that they attach to themselves. This pretty much summed it up:

No biblical passage speaks as powerfully to our situation as the message to the church at Laodicea. Like the American church today, the Laodicean church was rich, self-confident—and lukewarm.

The city of Laodicea (in Asia Minor, now Turkey) was famous in the first century. It was a major banking center and proud of its wealth. The city was especially famous for its wool exports and a highly regarded eye salve.35 Apparently the Laodicean church shared their fellow citizens' sense of wealthy self-confidence. But knowing they were half-hearted, lukewarm Christians, the Lord said to them,

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, "I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing." But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. —Revelation 3:14-20


This passage could just as well have been written to contemporary American evangelicals. Enormously wealthy, and proud of it, we think that most things are going well in spite of our blatant disobedience. But our Lord's word to us is simple: Repent!

Evangelicals have used the image of Christ knocking at the heart's door as a symbol of our vigorous evangelistic programs. But in truth, it is we, by our behavior, who have excluded him from our hearts and lives. He stands at the doors of our hearts, begging us to welcome his total Lordship.

Weeping and repentance are the only faithful responses to the sweeping, scandalous disobedience in the evangelical world today. We have defied the Lord we claim to worship. We have disgraced his holy name by our unholy lives.

Unfortunately, in my view, after that appropriate call to repentance, he misses the point. The latter part of the article is spent trying to show that things aren't as bad as they sound. He divides and slices western Christianity up until he finds a segment that is noticeably different than the general population. See, he says, it can work. But he fails to acknowledge the elephant in the room. That is that the overwhelming majority of Christians and churches do not understand what Christianity is. People are being taught at best a thought process or a vocabulary. They are not being taught discipleship or lordship. They are not being transformed into something new. They are not being shown a powerful and loving God, the god of the cross of reconciliation. They are told an empty prayer with a smile and sent on their way, another checkmark on the membership roles.

What he misses is that the bulk of "Christianity" in the US is not Christianity at all. It's a social club, a self help group or an appeasement of conscience, but it is not Jesus as Lord. Our Lord made it very clear what it takes to follow him, and what is called Christianity here is far removed from that. I have begun to realize that I have stopped expecting such a difference in my friends and in my own church. I have blurred the lines of what real Christianity is for the sake of tolerance. Now hear my right here, I am not advocating determining salvation based on church membership or anything like it. Nor do I want to have a holier than thou, in or out, we know who is God's kind of ministry. Been there, done that. But God has laid out through the teachings of his son what it means to follow him. How dare I or anyone else lower the standard for any reason, no matter how noble it may sound. It's a false kind of love to just let 'each to his own' when God has made clear that his people are to be different and that we are to help each other be different. How can I face God with a clear conscience one day if I do not do all I can to help those around be stay true to him? God, I was too busy ... it would have been awkward to ask him about that ... I'm not sure he wanted to hear it ... The fact is, Christianity that produces no results, no fruit, is not Christianity and we must call a spade a spade.

For all its warts and faults (and there are plenty), my family of churches, to its credit, has historically taken a dim view of such token Christianity. Becoming a Christian was not to be entered into lightly and it was not simply a name or a place to go on Sunday. Giving was expected, divorce was condemned (in fact marriages were expected to be happy not just long lasting), sexual purity was the standard and evangelism was a given. You confessed you sins and even your temptations to sin. It was a life style, a transformation, a mission and a purpose. Aside from the mistakes made in getting there, I think our Lord would have it no other way.

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I don't know that "taking Christianity seriously" is the missing factor. I'll illustrate with an anecdote. I recently watched the 6-part PBS series, "Frontier House," about 3 modern families who spend a summer living as homesteaders in 1880's Montana. One of the 3 families was overtly religious, probably fitting Barna's category of traditional evangelicals.

The mother of this family was called, "Our own Mrs. Olsen" by another person on the show, in reference to the shopkeeper's mean wife on "Little House on the Prairie." She tended to be harsh and critical of the neighbors, her two children, and most of all, her husband. He was by no means innocent in their marital woes, but he tried at least to keep it off camera. She didn't.

On one episode, another family with four kids was having a tough time producing enough food to keep everyone fed. So the father decided to brew moonshine to sell in order to buy food. He got his kids involved, picking the berries for fermentation.

When the mom of the first family heard this, she said, "I'm appalled that he would do such a thing, and more appalled that he would involve his children. I'm a good Christian woman, and when I return home to my church and my pastor, I will know that I conducted myself here in a way that was Christ-like and ethical."

I was SHOCKED when she said that. I wondered, "How can she possibly think her behavior is Christ-like?" The saddest part is the last episode, when they followed up with the families 2 months after their return to 21st century life. This woman and her husband had separated.

Yet here's the thing -- they took their faith seriously. They had convictions about righteousness -- wouldn't make moonshine, or even accept a gift of modern snacks for the kids sent by grandma because that would be cheating according to the show's rules. (The bigger family did cheat)

But they missed something, they missed the love, the mercy, the faithfulness that Jesus refers to, and their marriage fell apart because of it.

Unfortunately, I think we were stringent about righteousness in the ICOC, but we missed some of the same things, and that is why so much of the ICOC fell apart.

Over confidence is a common factor in Christianity, secular or spiritual. The lack of humility before scripture is over whelming. Too often I have seen people in a church fellowship assume that they have the right "formula" for what it takes to be a Christian. It's true that there are requirments from God the Father, through Jesus the Son, in order to even receive mercy. When I read John 1:5, I am lead to believe that true Christianity would not be something that we would understand today, up against traditional Christianiy. Even our modern day Church of Christ's meathodology is nothing new. Heirarchies, "discipling", prayer partners, evangilism focused ministries, mandatory baptism, and so on. Reform, restore, repeat. Jesus makes it simple. THE way that we will be recognized by the world, as belonging to Christ is the love that we have for each other. Look and read John 13:34-35 and that says it all. I figure that when we see a group of people all sacraficing their lives for each other, then that's when we can say, there are a group of Christians. In the world we are taught to be independant, self-sufficiant, and stay away from being co-dependant. Christianity is just the opposite of all that. Trouble is that satan has formulated the "cult" environment in mainstream christianity. If anything from the norm is out there, then it will be labeled a cult. I think though true love will persevere, God willing.

Amy,

Taking Christianity seriously is both not what I'm talking about and exactly what I'm talking about. Your illustration does a great job of making my point. That woman, and I only know of her what you've written, may have taken her religion seriously, but she did not take Christianity seriously. No respect for her husband, children or others, no considering others better than herself, judgmental in spirit and separation of a marriage are not things that are Christ like. She shows exactly what I was talking about, that western 'Christianity' has watered down the faith to be indistinguishable from the world. All it takes is some kind of belief in God (even if you redefine Him to be more palatable), words proclaiming yourself a Christian and perhaps some church attendance. We in the ICoC would have no such weak standard. Our Lord did not, why should we? We did make many mistakes in how we treated each other, over emphasized evangelism and under emphasized other gifts. Ironically, from what I've seen, instead of reforming what was in error and adding what was lacking to move more like Christ, we've watered ourselves down so as to be indistinguishable from the rest of 'Christianity' and therefore the world.

You've commented here before, I appreciate you coming back. This is the first time you've mentioned being a part of the ICoC. I'd love to know more about you and your experiences in our family of churches. Are you still in an ICoC congregation? What church were/are you a part of? Feel free not to answer publicly or at all (There are email links on the site if you want to do so privately.) I just like to get to know my readers, especially those coming from the ICoC. If you want to remain anonymous, that's fine. I'm glad you keep coming back.

Paul,

You hit it on the head. It's all about love, and that point is so prevalent in the scriptures. Matthew 22:34-40, 1 Corinthians 13 and the scriptures you mentioned. Why is it so hard to get that? I mean both for me and others. I fell like I've only really gotten it in the last couple of years and I feel like there are many who still don't. They understand it intellectually, but not in heart and in practice. How they treat others gives it away. Funny how when you say "It's all about love." even in my mind it sounds too soft, too liberal – and that's the reaction I get. Yes all about love, now did you share your faith? Read your Bible? Pray? Tithe? Have a Bible talk? Even as I type that, I fell like it would be misunderstood. Certainly those things have value and are even commanded on some level, but it's about love not how or what you do.

I think I found what's missing from western christianity. I've known something was missing for a long time, I started to suspect it had something to do with the very basics. The basics are just God's message to people.

I found that christians today are not really taught that God has come to the earth. They're taught it as a doctrine, not a reality. It's easy to test them too. John said if a person does not confess Christ has come in the flesh, they are not speaking from God. When someone is speaking what's really in their heart, if they do not acknowledge God has come to the earth, they are not speaking from God. Sure, they can say it, because it's what they're taught to believe. But watch they're body language, does it give them true joy? Is it wonderful to them?

Just ask this simple question 'What is the chief end of man?' What is it the most important thing God wants people to do in life?' If your honest answer is not to believe in the Son of God, then you do not have the Spirit of God.

Western christianity has done the worst thing possible in my opinion. It has made the wonderful message of God into a 'doctrine', or as you said a 'self-help' message. It's neither, it's the most wonderful thing thats ever happened.

Thats why people don't get excited about remembering the Lord's supper. That's why christianity is not much different in practice from any other religion. The answer is so simple that most people miss it.

Just ask this simple question 'What is the chief end of man?' What is it the most important thing God wants people to do in life?' If your honest answer is not to believe in the Son of God, then you do not have the Spirit of God.

I'm hesitant to subscribe to simple tests of one's faith/salvation/recpetion of the spirit like this. It's a bit reductionist and too simple in my view. What of Jesus' words in Matthew 22 regarding the most important commandment? How do your thoughts relate to that?

It seeems that this is something you've given a fair bit of thought to, perhaps I'm missing your point. Could you elaborate?

I appreciate your thoughts and thank you for visiting.

Believing the testimony about God's Son may sound simple, but it took me about 15 years of searching to find it. I started out in various churches, and thought I had found what I was looking for there, but soon realized there was something very important missing. I didn't know what it was for a long time, but somehow suspected it had something to do with the message of the gospel.

I started realizing that alot of the christians I knew put emphasis on living right, so I asked the question, 'if we could not sin, then why would Jesus have to die for us'?

I got a chance to talk to a christian leader for about 4 hours. I felt like I was a lawyer putting someone on the stand, but I really wanted to know what he believed. Finally as it got later and his defenses got weaker, I must have asked the right question because he admitted to not believing the gospel. This was someone who had was a youth pastor and a street preacher, missionary to Mexico and New York. He believed in works, not salvation through faith alone. He said the reason was pride. He wanted to do something for himself, not have God do everything for him.

After that I knew what I was missing and found out that anyone could be saved by simply believing the Gospel. Before I had said the 'sinner's prayer' and thought I believed it, but for some reason it was never a reality to me when I was a 'born-again' christian. Now I think of the message from the apostles as something very real.

So when I think about John's test of a person's spirit, I take it very literally. If a person does not confess God has come in the flesh, they are not speaking from God. Why? Perhaps because it's the only thing that can save a persons soul? Maybe it had something to do with the apostles dying tortuous deaths rather than saying anything against it?

For some reason, the message was the source of sort of overflowing joy for believers back in those days. I suppose John had some revelation that it was so wonderful, that a person had to confess it. If they didn't, then maybe it was just obvious that God was missing.

I forgot to respomd to your question about Matthew 22. I don't see any contradiction btw what Jesus said there and what He said in John 6:28-29. In some cases, Jesus answered questions without revealing that he was the Son of God. One example is Matthew 19:16-17.

1Jo 3:23 And this is His commandment, that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as He gave us commandment.
1Jo 3:24 And he who keeps His commandment dwells in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit which He gave to us.



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  • I forgot to respomd to your question about Matthew 22. I don't see any contradiction btw what Jesus said there and what He said in John 6:28-29. In some cases, Jesus answered questions without revealing that he was the...

  • Believing the testimony about God's Son may sound simple, but it took me about 15 years of searching to find it. I started out in various churches, and thought I had found what I was looking for there, but soon realized...

  • Just ask this simple question 'What is the chief end of man?' What is it the most important thing God wants people to do in life?' If your honest answer is not to believe in the Son of God, then you do not have the Spiri...

  • I think I found what's missing from western christianity. I've known something was missing for a long time, I started to suspect it had something to do with the very basics. The basics are just God's message to peopl...

  • Amy, Taking Christianity seriously is both not what I'm talking about and exactly what I'm talking about. Your illustration does a great job of making my point. That woman, and I only know of her what you've written, ...

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