A few weeks ago I wrote on the topic of homosexuality. When I first set out writing that post, homosexuality was only supposed to be one of many subjects touched on in the post. However, that topic required much further discussion, and since I had never laid out a relatively thorough commentary on my view of homosexuality, I decided to change the main goal of the post. This post is now what I was intending to write those few weeks back, sans a discussion of homosexuality. I am going to detail a number of problems in the American Christian church that have led, and are leading to, the disintegration of Christianity in America.
Until the American church stops performing the actions below, then it will continue to disintegrate. What I mean by disintegrate is that it will become less effective. I am not concerned with the numbers. There are many people in America who call themselves Christian who certainly are not followers of Christ. I am concerned with the Church showing people the truth and life of Christ.
One of the problems I was going to address was the affirmation of homosexuality by the American church. However, the American church has “affirmed” many other sins and I would like to address those. The affirmation of homosexuality inside the Christian church may indeed lead to a further collapsing of Christianity in America, but the previous failures of the American Christian church has led to many more and greater foundation problems. These failures have led us to where we are now, and it is not a good place. Each one of the failures below has contributed to the very poor spiritual state of the American church.
Legalism has been a downfall of the American church for decades, and really, millennia. For the purposes of this post, Legalism is defined as the insistence of following man-made religious or moral rules. Man-made religious rules are rules that go above and beyond the commands God gave in Scripture. Since we are in the New Testament era, Legalism would include an insistence on following certain Old Testament commands. Unfortunately this has been a major problem of the Church since pretty much its foundation. Even though there are several incredibly clear passages in Scripture that man-made religious rules are wrong (Colossians 2:16-23), we humans just seem to like adding rules.
A legalistic mindset causes one to judge another based on one’s idea of right and wrong and not on God’s definitions of right and wrong. This is a very dangerous habit because when we start making up rules for others to follow to appease our conscious, we can can go down a very slippery slope. We forget that God has created people differently and not everybody needs to be contained by laws that we feel we must have in our own lives to help inhibit us from sin.
Another previous failure of the American church was self-righteousness. For the purposes of this post, self-righteousness is defined as viewing one’s self more morally superior than another. Self-righteousness goes hand-in-hand with Legalism. Taking our eyes off of God’s commands and creating our own will eventually lead us to feeling superior to anyone else who does not follow the new commands. Self-righteousness also causes us to forgot that the very reason we became Christians is because we realized that we are not righteous at all. All Christians are believers in Christ because they realized they cannot perfectly keep all of God’s commands and left to themselves they are incredibly depraved creatures and are in need a Savior. Self-righteousness causes us to forget this very foundational fact.
Self-righteousness in the church caused many people to look down upon the church, and thereby Christianity. It is amazing to know that the namesake of Christianity preached so heavily against self-righteousness, and yet so many so-called Christians are incredibly self-righteous. How did this happen? Well, I think I can at least partly answer that for you. Why can I partly answer that? Because I struggle incredibly with self-righteousness.
When I was a youngster in the church, I can remember being taught that I needed to be good. That is not a bad thing to teach a kid. However, it was not balanced enough with teachings on humility, forgiveness, and mercy. I was taught how to be good, but I was not taught well-enough how to love people who are “bad.” There was so much condemning of people who were sinful, but not enough reminders that we are all sinful and in need of a Savior. That is at least one reason why I struggle with self-righteousness.
Another reason I struggle with self-righteousness is because I am human. A great number of humans struggle with this on some level. You certainly do not have to be part of the Christian faith to be self-righteous. This section could also be titled, “Hypocrisy”. Self-righteousness and hypocrisy often times go hand-in-hand because we humans are usually not that great and when we place ourselves higher than what we really are, we eventually fail even our own standards.
Inappropriate Use of Funds
When the Christian Church first launched, all believers shared their resources with each other. They even sold land to give to those among them who had need. Because of this, everybody had enough. I honestly do not know when actions like this stopped. I know that several hundred years after the Church’s founding many church positions became corrupted through purchasing the rights to that position. For many years some of the most powerful positions in the Catholic church were not occupied by actual Christians, but by impostors. This led to a great amount of financial and spiritual corruption. The majority of tithes were no longer used to help those in need, but to secure political power, and to buy land, buildings, food, clothing, and comfort for the impostors. Throughout the history of the Church there were certainly exceptions to this and many great men and women of faith used their positions to help those in need and to call the impostors to repentance.
Unfortunately, today there still seems to be little emphasis of moving most funds directly to those in need. So where is the money going? Mostly to internal operations: salaries for staff, building expenses, programs … . A paltry 1-5% of church income goes directly to helping those in need. This number has got to increase. By a lot. I feel more comfortable giving to a para-church ministry like Compassion International than I do giving to most churches. Churches have got to be more involved in their community and in helping around the world. If people could see their local church giving directly to those in the community, Christianity’s voice would be much louder, and much more respected.
But I do not want to hang all of this on the church as an institution. If the body of the church, the believing Christians, would actually care more about their neighbor than their new TV, or computer, or sound system, or clothes, or whatever else, then we as individuals, and the church as an institution, could do much more.
(This is not by any means an exhaustive discussion on church and personal finances. I realize that there is a much longer conversation to have, but I am not willing to go into it here. Feel free to comment about this, and maybe another post will be necessary.)
Ill-Equipping the Youth
Yet another previous failure of the American church was not educating the youth in the area of apologetics. The word “apology” is taken from Greek and it means to defend a stance. Apologetics is the branch of theology concerned with the defense or proof of Christianity. For the most part, the American church has failed miserably in educating the youth in the incredibly strong defense of their Christian faith. Our young people went away to college ignorant of the arguments supporting Christian beliefs and stances.
For the past several years of my life I have been saying that while the love and teaching of my parents first showed me the love and truth of Jesus Christ, it was the philosophical, scientific, historical, and sociological arguments of those I read in and after college that kept me in the faith. If I had never read Christianity’s most influential apologists, I am sure I would be an atheist by now. But why would I be an atheist now? Because of arguments from atheists? Partly. But mostly I would be an atheist now because I would be ignorant of the arguments I never read. I have found that the vast majority of the people who have problems with the Christian faith have never read a Christian apologist.
To be clear, I have read and viewed a number of books, articles, and interviews from atheists and theists who disagree with my views on Christianity. I have studied the beliefs of Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Fry, Sam Harris, Reza Aslan, and a host of others. I also earned a degree in Religion from Texas Christian University, a university that is Christian in name only. Their Religion department had us read The Sacred Canopy by Peter Berger that espouses that religion is simply something that man created to protect himself. (I agree that man can create a religious system to protect himself, but that does not mean that every religion is simply a man-made creation.) Among other books, they also had us read The Future of an Illusion by Sigmund Freud. I am sure you could guess what Freud called an illusion. So I am well versed in opposing views. In fact, as I am typing this, I have another window on my computer open to a website that has several authors critiquing each chapter of one of Josh McDowell’s books.
(This post is not meant to detail the weak or strong arguments of either side, so I will not go into the arguments here. I have critiqued the views in other posts, so please feel free to read them.)
The American church needs to educate their people on the arguments of those who attack Christianity and the arguments of those who defend Christianity. Speaking of defense, I have noticed that Christians are called upon to defend their beliefs but atheists are hardly called on to do the same. Atheism has a number of logical holes that most do not seem bothered by. Oh to have that luxury.
Misrepresentation of “Believe”
Maybe the greatest mistake the American church made over the past years is telling people that all they have to do is believe in Jesus and they will be saved. Now, there is nothing wrong with the statement, “believe in Jesus and you will be saved.” However, most people do not know that belief in Jesus Christ entails way more than just a mental action. Believing in Jesus Christ is a combination of three actions: 1) believing that Christ died for one’s sins and rose from the dead, 2) repenting of one’s sins, and 3) obeying the commands of God. So “believe” is a loaded word that contains at least three words: belief, repentance, and obedience.
(If any readers would like to hear me expound on the above thought and prove it, please comment, and I will acquiesce.)
By narrowing the requirement of being a Christian to only one aspect of the New Testament understanding of “believe”, many people claimed adherence to Christianity who had no business doing so. This watered down the impact of true Christianity, allowed many non-Christian messages to be perceived as Christian, and led generations of people to think that their many habitual sins would one day be forgiven at the gates of heaven because they “believed in Jesus.”
The above actions must be stopped by the Church at large or it will become more and more meaningless in society, and indeed will even be seen as a hindrance to society. We already see some people calling Christianity a hindrance to society, and if I had only met a certain sub-section of Christianity, then I would probably conclude the same. I want to apologize for the times in my life where I acted out the actions above. I turn away (repent) of that, and I move forward to show people true life in Christ. Christian, will you join me?