Christians and churches have inadvertently precipitated our nation’s plummet into the Age of Decadence. The delusion fueling America’s demise, society’s belief that human nature is inherently good, is not exclusive to non-believers. Many Christians are buying into the world’s trust in man’s capabilities and potential, redirecting faith away from God’s goodness to our own. It is also becoming increasingly common to distinguish and distance ourselves from a culture run amuck, taking some measure of pride in our relative virtue and piety.
Even “faithful” churchgoers can lose their sense of desperation and appreciation for God’s grace as they hang around “good” people, stop cussing, resist temptations, serve as a greeter, and volunteer at a homeless shelter. We can start to believe our own press, hearing how we have changed for the better, and join the chorus pointing out the immorality of those still living as we once did. None of that alters the fact that we need grace just as much as those who subscribe to the prevailing “truth” in America today – the inalienable right to pursue the unmitigated, relentless satisfaction of every self-indulgent urge.
No references in our prior posts were intended to imply any distinction between “us” and “them”. Characterizing Christ-followers as good and others as bad is a false dichotomy. Only God is good. Yes, believers do have enormous advantages – eternal life with their Father, Scripture, and the Holy Spirit – but those don’t make us “better” than anyone else. Christians take on a new nature at justification, but sanctification is a continual process. Righteousness in the Lord’s eyes is our inheritance through Jesus, but sinlessness is a state we will never attain this side of heaven. Dying to our original nature is a daily struggle as long as we are on planet earth. “Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.” (Romans 7:21-23)
Our society may be on the opposing front lines of that war, fighting for rather than against sin, but all humans share an inability to do the right thing whether we like it or not. When we do anything pure and holy, the Lord deserves all the credit. The blame for whatever we do wrong lies with us. Ironically, the better you think you are, the worse you actually are. When you think you’re the best you’re at your worst. Practicing and preaching morality is noble, as is keeping yourself from sin, but not if it becomes or conveys self-righteousness, separating yourself from “sinners”. Jesus levied His harshest criticism at those who claimed to know God but their sanctimonious air proved they didn’t. The fact that the Lord softened our hearts and led us to accept His forgiveness should make us feel thankful and humble, not superior.
The Price of Our “Superiority Complex”
Regardless of whether Christians and churches feign or articulate superiority, it is a belief many hold or convey to a culture not enamored with the insinuation. It seems counterintuitive that adherents of a religion hinging on acknowledgement of sin would try so hard to conceal it. To maintain appearances as a “good” Christian, many lack the humility and vulnerability to admit their faults openly either within their church or to friends and neighbors. Yet they are often quick to point out the shortcomings of society and the “lost”, in direct contrast with Scripture – “God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.’” (1 Corinthians 5:13)
Jesus won over the crowds, earned their trust, and disarmed their objections through serving the helpless, condemning self-righteousness, demanding authenticity, defending the poor, demonstrating God’s power, and revealing humanity’s limitations. So pretending to be good (as opposed to exposing our need for Jesus, so others can see theirs), not only contradicts all He taught us but elicits visceral responses from those we were supposed to reach with the Gospel…
- Rejection – Considers longstanding Christian values too outdated for the now enlightened, pointing to the hypocrisy of past leaders to justify their own hedonism, idolatry, and perversion while claiming moral supremacy
- Resentment – Not only dismisses attempts by Christians to impose our religious standard (one they don’t believe we abide by), but considers any questioning of their personal preferences to be “hatred”
- Retribution – The only people group that media, Hollywood and politicians are free to mock without hesitation are Christians, who refuse to conform to evolving social norms
Our post-Christian culture accelerates toward its downfall in part because many churchgoers unwittingly drew a line, alienating the “bad” by mistakenly believing we are “good”. Christ-followers are redeemed from sin, better able to resist sin, and not controlled by sin, but because we are not sinless our battle is against sin and not other “sinners”. Rather than building a wall to segment sacred from secular, our job is to disclose that forgiveness and reconciliation are available to everyone. That wall only serves to keep non-believers from seeing Jesus through us. Instead, they just see another human being, one they think is looking down on them. Therefore, an offended society that claims to value diversity above all else demands conformity around only one thing – cancelling anyone who advocates or does not condemn Christian values.
Who Told Us We Were Better?
Jesus was eminently clear in parables and instructions about the sinfulness of mankind and the importance of authenticity among His followers. Nearly every story in the Bible relates in some way to the passage “those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted”. So how have Christians in America projected an image so diametrically opposed to central tenets of Scripture? Our perceived arrogance stems from powerful forces in our culture steering our love away from God and our neighbors (the Great Commandment) and toward three alternative objects of our affection…
- Love Your Church – Church growth models encourage differentiation rather than unity in the body of Christ. Books and consultants teach pastors how to overcome the challenge of maintaining a church building and staff by investing in and promoting competitive advantages. Engaging children’s ministries, higher quality music, more sound teaching, and a wider variety of programs attract “shoppers” through the revolving door. If one church is better than another, perhaps those members are better than other Christians – and they certainly have a leg up on the “nones” and “dones” who don’t go to church at all. Internally-focused strategies for growth or survival may build loyalty, volunteering and giving to churches but also encourage social distancing rather than evangelism and compassion for the good of the community and Kingdom.
- Love Your Life – Scriptural Relativism (selective amnesia regarding Bible verses deemed too controversial or demanding for “consumers”) is more prevalent than ever today as churches recover from the pandemic, praying to get back to “normal”. Our Scriptural Relativism fuels society’s Moral Relativism. Sermons, songs and books accentuate the positives, citing verses like Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28 and Philippians 4:13, but ignoring inconvenient passages about sin, accountability, sanctification and the costs of discipleship. In fact, a recent Barna study found that 51% of Christians have never even heard of the Great Commission. Without a biblical view of our ongoing struggle against sins of omission and commission, we don’t see the log still in our own eye when we look in the mirror. Not understanding God’s commands to love above all else, we have not represented Him well. Our cries for justice now come across as judgment, what we intend as compassion is seen as condemnation, our selflessness is considered self-righteousness, and even our humility is labeled hypocrisy. It’s no wonder why we’ve lost our voice and can’t seem to do much “right” in modern American culture.
- Love Yourself – To revive a Church that was already declining in attendance, membership, impact, influence and perception before COVID-19, Christian leaders cave to social pressure and repeat culture’s rallying cries to be all you can be and make the most of your abilities. We leverage ideals the world is selling and put a Christian twist on it, modifying “you’re perfect just as you are” to say “we (and God) love you just as you are”. In other words, “there’s no need to change” – so most don’t. And God’s role isn’t to transform you but to get you through (or out of) difficult situations, the primary theme of contemporary Christian music. “Sin” is no longer part of society’s vernacular, so we don’t address it in church either. That inconsistency between our (external) words and (internal) actions is evident to media vultures eager to pounce on the next fallen pastor. Our efforts to accommodate culture’s obsession with its own “goodness” have backfired, putting us under their microscope since we claim to live by a moral standard (whereas society feels it shouldn’t be judged since it has no such standard).
Christians do have a new nature – one exemplified and marked by the characteristics of Jesus like humility, servanthood, compassion, and associating with “sinners”. So how do we look to the world so little like Jesus? The answer, at least in part, is that our churches look different than Jesus envisioned. Exciting worship, applicable sermons, and fun fellowship may produce cultural Christians who love their church, love life and love themselves, but not necessarily Spirit-filled disciples who truly love God and their neighbors.
It’s Your Turn…
In the next blog post, we will discuss how Christians and churches can convey that we’re not better so our nation can see that Jesus is best. Please share any thoughts, prayers and ideas about how to communicate how desperately we all need a Savior. That may be the only hope to keep America from plunging into the next and final phase of its history.