I think I would like to make a serious proposal for the reformation of American Christianity. It will be harder for me to get people to respond to the call than it was for Martin Luther. When he nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the Wittenberg church, there was already widespread discontent with the corruption in the Roman Catholic Church. The problem now is that the people in organized Christianity are, for the most part, happy with their situation, and those who are not happy pay a very small price when they abandon formal Christianity. The easy part for me to propose reformation is that I do not have to risk my life and my livelihood as Luther did.
American Christianity is also not like the situation in the churches of second-century Asia Minor when John wrote the book of Revelation. However, I think I can define my own list of seven contemporary churches in need of reformation. These are not identified by denomination, institution, closeness to tradition, or history but by their attitude concerning Christianity. They are not separate physical churches as one or more of these churches may be gathered at the same worship service. The accommodation of a variety of beliefs is a characteristic of present-day Christianity so individuals in the same congregation can be far apart in their thinking yet safe from any serious challenge to the quality of their faith.
You may be wondering what these seven churches are that I have experienced and that I would have you consider as needing reformation.
As a member of the self-centered church, I found my life centered on me. It was all about my security, my relationship to God, what God thinks of me, how I might hurt him, my time, my possessions, my personal peace. Me, me, me! I needed some inspiration to lead a different life. I wanted to be surrendered to Christ and be doing things in the purposes of God.
When I was in the secular church I learned much about the Bible, but very little about the reality of God, particularly the Holy Spirit. The information was useful, but not transforming. It was easy to see “spiritual” success as living well. This agreed with my natural inclination. In fact, it taught me I was to do things in my natural ability.
In the super-spiritual church I waved my hands in the air, sang with joy and stringed instruments, heard people speak in tongues but grew little in the knowledge and practice of Christianity. It was just children’s church with grown ups.
The self-righteous church was set on saving the world, not from sin, guilt and eternal damnation but from poverty, disease and carbon dioxide. I didn’t feel up to the task.
The saintly church saw holiness in self-sacrifice, abstinence and being different than others. I only measured up on the last count.
The pseudo-Christian church was nice, tolerant and very proud of having adopted the worst tenets of humanism. I found it had kept the name Christian while losing the reality. It would have come out well in a hypocrisy contest with anybody, because it professes to be what it is not.
The servant church was like C. S. Lewis’ good religious people. You feel they are good rather than them telling you so. They are full of love, joyful, peaceful, patient, kindly and self-controlled. You enjoy their presence, though I did not deserve to be there. They are not self-promoting, self-serving or boat rockers. They are what all the churches should be—and are ineffectual at reforming Christianity. Otherwise the other churches would not exist.
Each of these churches will defend themselves against being the subjects of reformation and no reformation will happen in any of them until a crisis comes from outside themselves that forces them to be what God would have them be or cease to exist.