It’s the morning after Christmas – the Brits and Canadians call it Boxing Day – and I’m sitting in front of the fireplace, contemplating a book that kept me up until late last night. It’s a fascinating book, written by a guy who runs a big church out in Alabama, and he talks about radical Christianity – the thought that “the American Dream” and Christianity are incompatible, that Christians aren’t called to the feel-good “prosperity theology” that a lot of churches are teaching today, but to a radical denial of oneself, to abandon everything in order to follow Christ.
I Google the book title and run across all kinds of book reviews and a few references to the book in blogs. As is common to Google searches, they lead me down twisting paths to rabbit holes that I didn’t imagine I’d find when I started, and one of these holes led to an article about how the American Right has hijacked evangelical Christianity to push its own pro-rich, pro-war theology. OK, I’ll buy that – but then the article starts talking about how The Left has drawn away Christians from the Right towards social issues, like feeding the poor and the like. I started feeling like The Left was trying to do what they claimed The Right had already done: hijacked Christianity to serve its own agenda, the agenda of works-based salvation.
The truth is that Christianity has its own agenda, one that has little to do with the Left or the Right. While both camps have as their agenda attempting to change people’s behavior and force change via outward techniques such as emotional manipulation, legislation, peer pressure, and mob psychology, Christianity is quite different – it premises that the only real, lasting change is done through the indwelling Holy Spirit. Change cannot be forced through outward pressure – that only forces people to feel guilty about the issue, and that will certainly never produce lasting change!
I am struck by the idea that all of this conflict is caused by this outward forcing of ideas and thoughts on people by force in one form or another. But what would happen if Christians put down their picket signs and started evangelizing – not by shaking the bible in other people’s faces, but by simply talking about how Jesus had changed their lives?
If people would see the outward change in Christians that is driven by the inward change generated by the Holy Spirit, wouldn’t that cause people to want what we have? Instead of a pre-packaged script that includes a sales patch and culminates in “praying the sinner’s prayer” and “accepting Christ”, why not simply tell people what Christ has done in your life and point them to Jesus – follow him? The idea that “accepting Christ” is all you have to do to be saved is one of the biggest mis-teachings in all of Christiandom – that’s only the very first step in a journey of love that goes on forever. Do we really think that the Almighty, Creator of the Universe, is waiting outside of our front doors, hat in hand, for us to “accept him” whenever we get good and ready, like some sort of child beggar at our doorstep waiting for a crust of bread or some other handout? That may be the vision of what passes for modern Christianity, but it certainly isn’t the faith of the New Testament!
Interestingly enough, Jesus put all kinds of conditions on salvation. To the rich man, he said that he had to sell all of his possessions and give them to the poor. He warned that those who did not follow the will of God were “workers of iniquity” and “evildoers” and would not enter the kingdom of Heaven, even though to the outside world, they were solid, steadfast Christians. He told his followers to “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” He insulted people, calling them hypocrites and snakes. Not a great way to build a big church, is it?
In our entertainment-driven, big-budget churches, this sort of stuff isn’t on the preaching agenda – it certainly doesn’t draw the crowds or fill seats or inspire people to give their money to churches so they can pay a big salary to their pastor and have huge buildings built – but Jesus didn’t seem to be interested in drawing – or keeping – crowds. After his sermons, people would be driven away, even to the point of Jesus asking his disciples, are you going to leave me, too?
If the faith pushed by the mega-churches is to be judged by numbers of attendees, then by that standard that faith is overwhelmingly successful. By the standards of the world, the entertainment-driven, rock-music-filled, charismatic-preaching faith is certainly near and dear to God’s heart, right? But if that’s true, then why aren’t we seeing all the signs that Jesus talked about in Mark 16:17-18? Why aren’t we seeing the dead raised, the blind and lame and sick being healed?
Contrast that to house churches in places like China, where people study the bible and pray for 12 hours at a stretch – no entertainment, no rock band, no air conditioning, no suit-clad pastor, no big beautiful building, no padded chairs, no pop-psychology-filled sermons, no prosperity theology – just God and the bible. In these house churches, people have been healed almost on a daily basis – these people are hungry for God, and it shows. In Africa, people routinely see angels in prayer meetings, people are raised from the dead and are healed of everything from broken bones to cancer. These people have abandoned *everything* to follow Christ – their freedom, even their lives, are threatened on a daily basis, because Christianity is illegal – yet these Christians worship every day, sometimes for 12 hours at a stretch.
Puts our faith to shame, doesn’t it?