Electronic Christianity Three

My most humble apologies to any who may have read my post “Electronic Christianity Two” and thought I was trying to base eChristianity on the Nicene Creed. That was not my purpose at all. What I was trying to accomplish was to show there was something solid at the core of Christianity. What I wanted to point out was that just as there is a reality underlying mathematics, physics, and all other kinds of science so there is a reality to Christianity that cannot be ignored. Please forgive me if I was unclear.

Perhaps I should have used the concept of “mere Christianity” that was used by C.S. Lewis to describe his idea of the root reality of Christianity. In any case, at the heart of our belief is the actual reality of a new life that will endure forever. This is the sure promise and the ultimate certainty yet it is not all there is for us in Christianity. Although most of us have probably had our lives greatly changed through the work of the Godhead in us, what also matters is that we are a part of the body of Christ and the body needs all of us parts to be truly whole. This is why I thought up eChristianity. It is conceived as a way to bring together the many of us who are one-person churches; people who have never found their “fit” in conventional churches and provide us a unity with each other.

I am not sure how eChristianity will work but I think it can use what the Internet has made possible. It is meant to enable the coming together of many parts of the body of Christ so Christianity can better withstand the forces operating to reduce its influence in the world and in people’s lives.

Please let me know what you think.

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Electronic Christianity

The secular dreams of those who thought the Internet might bring about a better world might be partially fulfilled if it is used by Christians to bring our religion into the electronic age in a way that unites us in a common purpose and hope.

I think the future of American Christianity should lie in what I would call electronic Christianity. What I would give as a name for this new form of Christianity is the term eChristianity. I was surprised when my Google search came up empty for the label. I would have thought someone would have already used it. Perhaps eChristianity is simply too obvious or, perhaps, rather too broad for people’s implementations of Christianity on the Internet. Of course, all of you who read this post are participating in some form of electronic Christianity.

What I hope eChristianity will do is provide a form of Christianity without the current limits of geography, institutions or traditions. This does not mean that it would be without a common core of belief centered on the person of Jesus Christ. The various beliefs of eChristians would be tested in the electronic community by standards of conformity to the Bible, objective truth, rationality, common sense, and reality. I would hope that the form eChristianity takes allows us freedom of faith and understanding in the areas where there is some latitude while restricting the spread of unhelpful concepts of Christianity.

An eChristianity community can bring into being a tangible presence of a people set apart from the rest of the Internet while at the same time providing an actual unity of Christ’s people. Our relationship to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will have an actualization in the oneness of a Christian community joined in electronic communication.

There is further benefit to a form of Christianity imbedded in an electronic community. In our present culture it is far easier to interact with people electronically than it is face-to-face or in other physical ways. Also, almost anybody, Christian or not, is accessible to electronic communication. This fact allows for both a great enhancement of the activities currently conducted in churches and a far more widespread proclamation of the gospel (good news) of Jesus to unbelievers.

This new form of Christian community would not keep groups of Christians from coming together to participate in various activities helpful in their localities, and to join together in celebrations of what Christ has done for us.

The success of eChristianity will require a sacrifice of some part of our status quo from all us who participate. Though this is a small thing compared to the sacrifice of their lives required of some Christians, it is still no small thing. We like our freedom and independence, and our present situation. Unfortunately, unless we do something positive about the state of American Christianity what we like may not matter. Please let me know what you think about eChristianity.

Fair Warning

I am always impressed by how well the English use their language. For example, American auctioneers typically say “Going once, going twice, sold!” The English say “Fair warning!” In both cases when the gavel comes down the transaction is settled. The warning given at an English auction says two things. One is that no further offers will be accepted. The other is that the highest bid must be paid.

The Bible contains many instances of God giving people fair warning. Prophecies of destruction tell that a time will come when the cup of God’s wrath will be filled with peoples’ iniquities and it will be too late for people to repent. There are also descriptions of the heavy price that must be paid when people reject God and his standards for human behavior.

Applying this idea to present-day American society is too easy and has been done too often by “premature prophets” for it to have any traction in our culture. Where it has not been applied is to American Christianity. Christians fail to remember that what was destroyed in Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70 was religious practices that had their origins in the desert of Sinai at the direct expression of God’s will. What happened there was no less powerful than what happened in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. Yet what had been founded in the very presence of the glory of God had become so corrupt that God destroyed it without a chance for repentance and without remedy.

The first three chapters of the book of Revelation give fair warning to the churches of the United States. If their various corruptions are not remedied they will cease to exist in their present form just as the seven churches of Asia Minor to whom John wrote have long since ceased to define the nature of Turkish culture. What are these defects that must be remedied of Christianity is to remain a shaper of American values.

My analysis of our present situation will take the form of descriptions of conceptual churches. These churches are not defined 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.

The first and perhaps the largest conceptual church is the cultural church. It comes in several very different expressions. Its characteristic is that its members poll on social issues almost exactly the same as the general population. This means that its attitudes and behaviors are indistinguishable from society in general. The cultural church, by some sort of paradox, tends towards attendance in traditional (mainstream and Roman Catholic) churches and in mega-churches. It exists in traditional churches because they are part of the culture. The mega-churches tend to fit the culture because their purpose is to attract as many people as possible, so they avoid, as much as they can, anything like an emphasis on doctrine that might offend anybody or cause controversy.

The pseudo-Christian church is an expression of ideological liberalism. Like secular liberals it assumes it is the reality and other expressions of Christianity are deviants that can be labeled evangelical or fundamentalist or some such. The pseudo-Christian church is where religion becomes an expression of rationalism. Everything in traditional Christian belief that requires the supernatural is removed as a reality but is given a spiritual significance. For example, the bodily resurrection of Jesus did not actually occur but it signifies something we can have good feelings about.

The pseudo-Christian church closely follows the secular spirit. Thus its big concern now is homosexual rights, before this it was sexual liberation, feminism, environmentalism, world peace, and other liberal causes. It accepts the theory of evolution and whatever else falls into the realm of the popular. You might ask why the pseudo-Christian church continues to affiliate itself with Christianity. The answer is simple, Christianity provides them with tenured professorships, social respect, sources of funding, and keeps them able to think they are something they are not.

The hyper-Christian church ignores the warning C.S. Lewis gave us in The Screwtape Letters about adding things to Christianity. The pseudo-Christian church believes too little, the hyper-Christian church believes too much. It adds worship of the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, and miracles as essential elements of the Christian life. It can be given some applause for bringing some fire and spirit, through the charismatic movement, to parts of the cultural church. However, in “amping up” Christianity it raises expectations higher than can be maintained thus causing disillusionment among some of its adherents.

The social-activist church should have longevity as there is a never-ending list of things needing to be done to make people’s lives better. One problem with this church is that it became a social-critique church and many of its members went from seeking to relieve poverty to criticizing the acquisition of wealth. A more serious problem from a spiritual standpoint is a conceit: If we were in charge of the world we could set everything right. The pride revealed in this mode of thinking shows up particularly in the peace and justice part of this church. The foundation of Christianity, for Christ and all believers, is humbleness before the purposes of God the Father.

The self-centered church comes directly from our self-centered society. The core of the self-centered church is an inward-looking view of what Christianity is meant to be. In this church what matters is that God thinks of them highly and lovingly. Their songs contain a lot of I, me, and my instead of second and third person pronouns such as you, he, and his. Their self-centeredness can go as far as to think that God’s happiness depends on their performance as a Christian. They think a lot about their time, their possessions, their safety and their personal peace. Obviously this church does not think much of others except in what way helping them might increase their own self-esteem.

The self-made church has two denominations. One branch believes that we can make Christianity be what we want it to be. Thomas Jefferson, who edited the New Testament to make it say what he wanted to believe, was not the founder of the first denomination but he is a good example of its members. The members of the this branch of the self-made church “cut out” the parts of Christianity that do not suit them or are not in accordance with their lifestyle or social beliefs.

The second denomination of the self-made church seems, at first, to be very unlike the first. Its members generally take the Scriptures very seriously and do their best to follow them. Where they are like the others is that they believe their Christian life and practice have to come from their own efforts. They have to make a choice, sometimes in conjunction with the saying of a prayer, to become a Christian. They are told in this part of their church there are many things they must do as a Christian in their own efforts. These directions, such as reading the Bible, praying, and doing good works, may seem good. However, this do-it-yourself sanctity can prove exceedingly difficult, often leading to the rejection of their Christianity. Or if they are successful in following the directions they are given for leading a Christian life, they can be led into self-righteousness. You can see that participation in either denomination of the self-made church is hazardous for people hoping to find completion in Christ.

There are two other churches that relate to modern philosophy. There is the rationalist church that believes that reason can create a form of Christianity compatible with modern philosophy. The literalist church began as a defense against modern philosophy by trying to make its interpretation of the Bible “scientific.” There will undoubtedly come into being, if one does not already exist, a post-modern church.

There is, as there has been since the first century, a heretical church. The length of time this church has been in existence makes it hard for it to create new heresies but its members keep trying. There is the new deist Church that seeks to allow the compatibility of Christianity and both Judaism and Islam by removing faith in the deity of Jesus Christ and eliminating the Holy Spirit. There is the new-age church that melds Christianity with both new and old forms of spirituality.

I will end my rather long list of churches with the miscellaneous church. This is the place of worship for people who withdraw from society or other Christians, people whose beliefs are so far from normal Christianity that they are a church unto themselves. Their problem is that, and the members of the other churches described here share in it, is that they violate the unity of the one church of which all Christians are meant to be members.

At this point you may be wondering why I left out the good church—the one like your local congregation—from my list. It is a principle of Christian sanctity if we think we are good enough, we are not. If you think your particular body of believers does not need reformation, it most likely does.

What all the churches on my list have in common is they have, in one way or another, turned Christianity upside down. They have made Christianity about people—church leaders, poor people, oppressed people, us, and so forth—rather than about Jesus Christ. We have come to think that it is God’s job to supply the seed, fertilizer and water so we can cultivate our own gardens. We find this much more to our liking than the idea we should be servants in the Lord’s garden.

The second problem with these churches is that those who still believe in the kingdom of God in some way misunderstand its meaning. They are much like the religious rulers Jesus spoke to. They want, and expect, a political kingdom. Someone said something like “Jesus preached the kingdom of God and what we got was churches.” And we do have a multitude of churches. What we do not have is an understanding of the proper role of these churches The function of churches is to serve the body of Christ by evangelism, exhortation, comfort and many other things not to be the be-all and end-all of Christianity. They were intended to be way stations, outposts, hospices and so forth for Christians so they could be fully equipped to live in the kingdom of God.

I do not think there can be a remaking of American society on Christian principles unless there is a return of American Christianity to the truth of Scripture. That will not occur until many, many members of most of the churches are turned right-side-up. That is, they become focused on Jesus and his kingdom as the object of their faith, love and learning rather than anything else.

If the regeneration of a significant part of American Christianity occurs, it will be the work of the Holy Spirit. What we who see the need for this change can do is allow Christ and the Holy Spirit to work in us so we know quite certainly that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. As that happens, we will be freed of our illusions, delusions and ignorance so we can see what is upside-down in American Christianity and rightly work and pray for its becoming as Christ would have it. Thus, if the Holy Spirit choses to honor our efforts, and if Christ’s purposes include a reformation at this time, we will be participants in, and celebrants of, a great revival of Christian belief, and be able to rejoice in the righting of what has gone wrong.

Otherwise, let what I wrote constitute “Fair Warning.”

A Reformation of American Christianity

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.

Self-Centered Church

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.

Secular Church

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.

Super-Spiritual Church.

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.

Self-Righteous Church

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.

Saintly Church

The saintly church saw holiness in self-sacrifice, abstinence and being different than others. I only measured up on the last count.

Pseudo-Christian Church

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.

Servant Church

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.

From the Present World to the New Creation

The book of Revelation, beginning from two points in the present world (the history we live in), tells us what happens to some part of humanity on their way to the new and final creation we find at the end of the book. This segment of people is those whose names are written in the book of life (Revelation 20:12). The destiny of the rest is to be thrown into a lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).

There are many people who object for many different reasons to the idea of everyone having to face a pass/fail situation to remain in existence. Thus we should look at how Revelation gets us to this point. The books starts with a man named John, most likely the apostle, on the island of Patmos in the Mediterranean Sea around AD 95. It is a Sunday and he enters into a condition of spiritual perception described as being in the Spirit. This state allows him to see spiritual realities with the same clarity and intensity as he normally saw physical realities. Thus begins a series of visions that continue to the end of the book.

The first vision concerns the seven churches in Asia Minor to which the book is addressed. In it we find that even in Christian churches there are people who may pass and also who may fail. If this surprises us we should remember Jesus told his disciples in the parable of the weeds (Matthew 13) that there were going to be people in the Christian churches until he returned who were sons of the evil one and who would then be thrown into the fire.

The next series of visions, collectively described as the opening of seven seals, are an outline of human history. The test here is how people react to the events of history. Those who have faith in Christ are meant to persevere in their faith while others are seeing only disasters and the wrath of God or, in our time, both the absence of God and any meaning to what happens. The “seal” visions go counter to the optimism in Western culture that has been a staple of secular, and much nominally Christian, thinking since the Enlightenment.

The “trumpet” visions provide us pictures of psychological disasters. The events that occur create fear, anxiety and other types of psychological pain. The last three of the seven trumpets produce such pain they are called three woes. Surprisingly enough the third woe is the return of Christ which means it is time for everyone to find out who has passed and who will be destroyed. Certainly, the highest of possible anxieties will be in those who do not have a true assurance of their faith in Jesus Christ.

This second part of Revelation starts at Revelation 11:19 or Revelation 12:1 depending on how those verses are understood. In any case, it is here that the visions enter the realm of the spiritual. This means that what occurs affects the world in a different way than the events of the first half of the book.

The first vision in this section provides us a vision of a beautiful woman descending from heaven. The immediate symbolism is that of the creation of the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai. The larger meaning is that of God’s good purposes for humanity. We see this in the birth of a male child who is obviously Jesus Christ. The steps between his birth on earth and his enthronement in heaven are omitted. The good promised to those who are faithful to Christ is expanded on throughout the remainder of the book.

Next there comes the bad news for humanity. John sees a war in heaven in which the good angels defeat Satan and his minions and cast them down to earth. We are told in 2 Peter 5:8 that the devil seeks out individuals to destroy but he also has larger projects for human destruction as we are told in various symbols.

The initial symbol is described as a beast coming out of the sea. Again there appear to be two aspects to what is represented by the beast. The concrete aspect of it could be as a symbol of the Roman Empire. However, just as the woman has ramifications all through history so does this first beast. The larger symbolism is that of nations that wage war against the people of God. The impetus that Satan supplies to these nations we may call “nationalism.”

The second beast is pictured as coming out of the earth. It supports the power of the first beast and insures that the beast out of the sea is continued to be worshipped, even though at some point it had been severely injured. We might see this beast as “secularism” because in it we find a worship of the natural world and the promotion of technology as an ultimate good. This beast may also be symbolized by the false prophet who is introduced in chapter 16.

The role of the beasts and the false prophet is to deceive people about the reality of God’s good purpose for humanity. This is done by the creation of false ideologies that people can serve and in doing so be kept from serving God, which is where their true interest lies. They also allow Satan to achieve the destruction of human life that is his main goal. There are many “isms” that Satan has used and is using, far more than can be listed. A new one is pathological altruism which is defined as doing good to feel good regardless if anyone is helped by it. It seems also that almost anything that is joined to Christianity, such as social activism, church unity or older causes such as temperance are probably deceptions created by Satan.

The name Babylon is used four different times in Revelation as the description of a decadent entity. Far be it from me to be able to provide any certainties as to exactly what these entities are. One of the difficulties in interpreting Revelation is that we do not know where we are in all the things that are presented to us in a variety of ways.

There are far more things going on in Revelation than I have even mentioned. However, returning to my original purpose, it is time to take a look at how we get from our present world to the final creation and to do that we need first to see what this world is like.

Our present world is part of a universe that, as best we know, began with an immense amount of energy coming into existence. This energy was contained in a rapidly and constantly expanding four-dimensional entity called the space-time continuum. This energy is the source of all matter. We know, thanks to special relativity, how energy and matter are related. Matter and energy, and the forces that govern them, constitute the material universe.

Physics is always subject to revision but it seems now that gravity, which is produced by deformation of the space-time continuum, does not fit into the Standard Model of physical forces that includes the strong force, the weak force and electromagnetism. This appears to make it reasonable that gravity can be thought of as a part of the immaterial part of the universe constituted by space and time.

It was not too long ago that scientists did not know the universe was expanding, that time was variable and that gravity was a deformation of space. This did not prevent materialists from claiming that everything was matter and energy and nothing immaterial existed. They were obviously wrong about the universe but this did not prevent them from proclaiming the nonexistence of any spiritual realm. However, now it is reasonable to question any of their supposedly certain knowledge about the nonexistence of immaterial things.

Like the universe we humans have our material and immaterial components. Our immaterial part is often called our soul. Like space and time it is not governed by the laws of energy and matter. In its normal condition it, like the universe, is not eternal. However, unlike the universe, it has the possibility of becoming eternal through what is called a second birth. This new birth is a work of the Holy Spirit. In other words, here is a case of the spiritual realm entering the physical realm. And here we can see that immaterial things can influence our physical existence just as the space-time continuum shapes the material events of the universe.

The work of the Holy Spirit in those who will become eternal is the final creation coming into the present creation. It is what Jesus called the kingdom of God. However, this is only the beginning of the road to eternity. The next step which takes place in the present world is what could be called “solidification.” This is the process often called “sanctification” where people destined for eternity began to acquire the “being” required to live longer than nations, longer than the earth, longer than the universe. The step after this is physical death. There is no escaping it. Jesus had to go through it to lead others to everlasting life.

After physical death there is a state of spiritual existence. This seems to take several forms. It is sometimes thought of as a marginal existence in a place called “Hades” (the grave) or it can be, as in Revelation, participation in the eternal praise of God the Father and God the Son. The final stage of our existence is where people either receive a resurrection body in which they will live forever or they are sent to a second death where they cease to exist.

At this point we should ask ourselves why everybody does not urgently seek to become an inhabitant of the final creation. There are several reasons why this is so. Major causes are egotism, atheism, hedonism, intellectualism, and so forth, here are those isms again and they are all deceptions of Satan who seeks the destruction of individuals however he can.

There are reasons other than Satan’s deceits for people making the wrong choice. There are people who dislike the God of the Old Testament and/or the Jesus of the New Testament. We should pause here briefly and consider the mental state of people who think they are qualified to judge the being and purposes of God. Next, we can go on to those who love the things of the world too much. We are told in 1 John 2:16 that the cravings of sinful people, the ambitions for more, and the pride of accomplishments and possessions are not from God but from the world and as such cannot last. They and these things will have no place in the final creation.

Some traditional Christians think people make the wrong choice because of their rebellion against God. This may be flattery because what people seem to object to is the sacrifice of self that is required and the acknowledgment of fundamental defects in themselves. Some of those who go on to the second death are those who do not see any need to be any better than they are.

We do not know why Revelation shows so many people unable to acquire the eternal life that is to be found in Christ. Jesus, though, told his disciples in Matthew 7:13–14 that Christians needed to enter the final creation through a narrow gate and that there would be only a few who found the road to eternal life. He also said there was a wide gate that leads to annihilation. This is the road to the second death. The book of Revelation is a long and dramatic exposition of these words of Jesus. We may not comprehend many of the details but the message is clear. Our choice of the direction of our lives must be always, and in perseverance through all things, along the narrow road.

The final creation we should seek is a new heaven and a new earth. John saw a great and wondrous woman come down to the present world to symbolize God’s purposes for it. In a later vision, chapter 21, John sees a bride descending on the new earth. She is also spectacular. The woman symbolizes the permanent union of Christ with those who inhabit the holy city described as the New Jerusalem.

The symbolism surrounding the bride and the rest of the final creation is complex. It may be best understood as a negation of the present world. In it there will be no death, mourning, pain or any of all the other ailments of the present world. There will be no evil people. They are specifically excluded. The description of the new heaven and earth seems to preclude it being a remaking or repurposing of the present world. This is no return to Eden but an entirely new existence in a completely new reality. In it all is good and everything in it will last forever. It will allow the people there to be what God saw them to be when he envisioned their existence before the creation of the present world.

Turning Christianity Upside Down

The reformation of American Christianity will, of necessity, cause turmoil and turn the culture of many churches upside down. However upsetting this will be, it is a necessary precursor to any possible positive impacts on American culture. Christianity must be made righteous before its light can shine out in the world. The Gospel of John (John 3:19–20) tells us the people of the world love the darkness of evil and resist being brought into the light of the truth. Only a regeneration of our Christian understandings and practices can produce any hope of us lighting up our darkened world.

When Paul and his fellow Christians left Antioch to bring the light of Jesus Christ into their darkened world they were entering a culture that was not like the present secularized, scientific, and technological environment that now surrounds us. It was a culture that much resembles the contemporary condition of American Christianity. The pagan part of Roman culture followed gods that were of human invention, and traditional myths largely inherited from Greek culture, as well as imports from Eastern and Egyptian religions. The irreligious people advocated a number of conflicting philosophies.

I think it would take a long article to fully justify the previous paragraph, so please just accept my thesis that there is a real correspondence between the Roman culture of Paul’s time and our present Christian culture. If you do that, you can see that the book of Acts contains ideas applicable to our current situation.

C. Kavin Rowe in his book, World Upside Down: Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age writes that the passage describing Paul’s visit to Thessalonica (Acts 17:1–9) sets out three interdependent practices churches must follow if they are going to fulfill Luke’s vision of cultural remediation of a darkened society. These actions are: “the confession of Jesus as Lord of all, the universal mission of light, and the formation of Christian communities as the tangible presence of a people set apart.”

It might be thought all Christian churches would acknowledge that Jesus is the Lord of all that exists in this world and in the world to come. However, what is the reality in our present-day churches. It brings to my mind the parable Jesus told about the tenants of a vineyard that had been left in their care (Mark 12:1–12). The tenants thought they could take ownership of the vineyard because the owner was absent and the people the owner sent to remind the tenants of their obligations had not the owner’s power to enforce them.

The present-day tenants of the Christian enterprise have sought to claim ownership by doing away with the person and teachings of Jesus as set forth in the canonical New Testament and substituting either their own opinions or those of various people, past and present. This is readily evident in people who deny the truth of the New Testament accounts. It is also true of those who remake the gospel in order to attract people to their ministries. It shows up in the portion of Christianity whose image of Jesus is a dead man on a cross. It is also apparent in churches where the empty cross and not God’s love are made the center of preaching and teaching.

Rowe makes the point in his book that when a “moral or metaphysical order is invalidated, a practice whose sense was made in relation to this order literally loses its sense.” What this means, in plain language, is that when Christian churches and institutions move off the bedrock of the being and reality of Jesus Christ their practices of Christianity become nonsensical. This is a strong statement but I suspect it was what had become the situation when Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. It may be that many of the people who are leaving the practice of Christianity are sensing at some level this disconnect between the reality of their churches and what Christianity really ought to be.

What will happen when part of American Christianity becomes a mission of light to darkened churches should not be a great surprise. John 3:19–21 (English Standard Version) tells us there will be two reactions. Some people will hate the light and resist it so their evil works will not be exposed. Others, who have having been holding to the truth, will come to the light and be seen as people of God.

19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

Judgment is not a popular thought in our culture. I think it is true that some Christians in the past both misunderstood it and overemphasized it. Judgment is not getting zapped by a lightning bolt when we do something wrong. It is choosing darkness when light is available, and having to live with the consequences of that choice. One of the missions of a reformed American Christianity will be to show our nation both the reality of the light and the truly fulfilled lives Christians can live.

According to Rowe, Luke in the book of Acts shows us that Christianity was not to be a reformation of Roman culture but an overturning of it. If we apply this understanding of Acts to American Christianity, we can see that something radical is needed for its reformation. Institutional Christianity swallowed up the converts of the Billy Graham crusades, the Jesus people of the ‘70s, and the men of the Promise Keepers movement. Perhaps a motto for reformation will be “Step out of your Church and enter the Kingdom of God.” This was the essentially the message of the first reformation and I think American Christianity needs as thorough a revision. However, it should be accomplished without all the downsides, such as divisions among the reformers, persecutions, religious wars and so forth.

It is at this point that the formation of tangible Christian communities will be required to show the reality of life in Christ. I think these communities can be virtual (existing on the social media), ad hoc (Christians coming together at particular times and places to accomplish meaningful objectives), and long term (more or less permanent groups of Christians who have chosen to be an expression of the body of Christ). I also think it will need our submission to the leading of Christ and the Holy Spirit as the reformation task is too large and too difficult for our human abilities, no matter how motivated we might be.

 

 

American Christianity after Its Reformation

It is easier, I think, to criticize than to provide useful means of improving a given situation. It is easier to tear down than to build up, easier to find fault than to overlook minor errors. With this in mind, while my post “The Reformation of American Christianity” could be expanded into a book if I had the time and interest, I think I should present some ways American Christianity after its reformation should differ from the present version.

A friend once told me his church’s doctrines rested on a three-legged stool. One leg was Scripture, another tradition, and the last, reason. I refrained from telling him his denomination had knocked all three legs out from under the stool and in its present version rested on egos and opinions. A truly reformed (note the lower case r) American Christianity must stand on a renewed and higher view of Scripture than is presently held almost anywhere. Traditions, meaning common practices or supposedly authoritative interpretations, must be looked upon as nonessential differences. And the mind we bring to understanding Jesus Christ must contain the whole potentiality God has given us—not just reason but imagination, intuition, emotion, empathy and all the other facets of grace-fueled thinking.

It is evident that a renewed understanding of Christianity will require new theology. Theology at present is essentially philosophy. An early Christian, Lactantius (who tutored the Emperor Constantine’s children), noted that philosophers all had different opinions and spent their time arguing with each other. He thought Christians should not bother arguing with them. His advice would seem to apply to us today. Theologians of the reformed American Christianity should be mining a corrected view of Scripture to tell us ordinary Christians all that we can understand about the nature of Christ, how we can become more like him (in his human nature), and how we can come to live, think, and act in ways that glorify God.

Our reformed Christianity will have a difficult time returning to the original proclamation of Christianity “Repent of your sins and believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” The most difficult part will be convincing contemporary people they have any sins of which to repent. Sins, both physical and mental, have been sanitized by the secular world, and by many Christians, through lowering standards of behavior (while being totally intolerant of those who are politically incorrect). The idea behind this attitude is that if some unfortunate attitude or behavior cannot be eliminated by prohibition then it can be legalized and thus made no longer a problem. This fits right in with the advocacy of social chaos and personal dysfunction so prominent in our culture.

The apostle Paul had to speak across a huge cultural divide such as we face when he preached to the Athenians in the Areopagus. Hughes Oliphant Old, in volume 1 of his series The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures, described the situation, after the sermon Paul preached in Acts 17:22–31, in these words. “Polite apologetic has been put aside here. There was nothing diplomatic about telling the Athenians, of all people, that they were ignorant. To threaten the day of judgment was to reveal oneself as being hopelessly beyond the pale of humanism, and to affirm the resurrection was to kiss enlightenment a fond farewell.”

Unless reformed American Christianity is totally convinced of the truth of the Word of God, it will not be able to change minds that are immersed in a secularized society. The goal should be to bring people who are confused by all the godless ideas of our time to the point where they will say, as George MacDonald had a woman redeemed by the Holy Spirit say in his book The Curate’s Awakening. “I would like to be loved as an immortal woman, the child of a living God, and not as a helpless—a helpless bastard of Nature!” MacDonald back in 1876 saw the issue clearly. People could be children of God or the fatherless products of nature. He had Helen Lingard make the choice we can hope more and more people make as a result of a clear proclamation that there is a choice to be made.

It would probably not be enough to make an impact on our culture if our renewed Christianity only resulted in a spiritual unity. It would probably not be enough for us. We are, at this stage of our existence, physical creatures and we receive many benefits from being together in groups of various sizes. God knew this and so provided in the Mosaic Law for three national one-week feasts each year. These gatherings are called the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover), the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles. Through all sorts of circumstances these feasts kept the Israelite people united in their corporate identity, even when they did not have their own nation.

We Christians do not have any instructions on how and when and where and for how long we are to be gathered. Yet we probably have a need for doing so and are actually told in the book Hebrews not to forsake doing it. Christians coming together began before the Day of Pentecost and continues to this day, not only in weekly services, but in such events as processions, retreats and on many other occasions. A renewed Christianity would find in the leading of the Holy Spirit, and as a result of the love of Christians for other Christians, ways to express their unity in events of various styles and purposes.

The message of a renewed Christianity will include the kingdom of God as a focus of loyalty. The present diverse and diffused Christianity is neither centered on Jesus or on his kingdom. Renewed churches will see their role as servants of Christians and not as their “owners.” There is enough work for renewed churches to do in proclaiming the gospel, healing damaged Christians, leading in the sharing of resources, and so forth so there will be no need for them to try to limit the unity of the Body of Christ and/or oppose allegiance to the kingdom of God.

The Protestant Reformation produced a variety of new understandings of Christianity and also continuing divisions. Nevertheless, these different ideas of what was right, working together in ways not planned by humans, lit a flame in Europe that, although it is now close to burning out, changed the lives of individuals, the shape of cultures, the destiny of nations and has now spread virtually all over the world. We can only hope that a reformed American Christianity will light in us a fire that will illuminate our darkened world.