The church in America is embarrassed by its own identity. We’ve tried really hard, for a long time, to make ourselves cool, relatable, down to earth, funny, casual, and experts on all the social issues of the day assuming these things will reach people for Jesus. In the process, we have become our own worst enemy, pandering to the culture for likeability’s sake with little effectiveness in saving people from hell—if we even believe in such a place anymore. We’ve made the salvation of culture greater than the salvation of people, and in the process there’s not much left that looks like historic Christianity in America.
Worse yet, without realizing it, the kind of “Christianity” that we’ve created is being swallowed up by a culture that will only allow its existence on its terms. It’s already happening. Whatever passes for Christianity in the public square today is patently not Christianity, while the masses are taught to assume differently. The only kind of “Christianity” that is forbidden is that which maintains that Christianity has any standard of adherence. Whatever semblance there is left of true Christianity in America has a short shelf life until the culture has accomplished a complete remake of the church into its own confused image.
How did we get here? And, more importantly, how do we preserve what’s left of the Christian faith in America?
A Bad Marriage
The joining of the church and the world in America has been years in the making. The American churchgoer was trained to view the church as having the sole purpose of making people happy, commonly labeled as moralistic therapeutic deism. Whatever struggle we face in life (and how wearisome this pastoral fixation on “struggle” has become), whatever hardship, abuse, pain, sorrow, suffering, we were told, should not be happening. God was offered as a cosmic grandpa in the sky with a big band aid so that we would never have any scrapes or bruises.
Christian ministry became a utopian endeavor. All classic soteriological and churchy language was replaced with the pastor’s own verbiage as an emotional therapist. Gone was the emphasis on sin and the need for salvation. In fact, we were told that such a message that confronts sin and calls for repentance and faith in Jesus was too oppressive to achieve real happiness.
The goal of the American pulpit was niceness, to be non-offensive, with the most winsome forms of conversational speech that would make people feel safe and non-threatened. The result was (and still is today), Sunday worship that became nothing other than a giant therapy session to feed what the Bible often calls evil desire.
The church of the present is now so practiced in trying to make people happy, there is no way of stopping the flood of utopian ideals that are breaking down our church doors from the culture. The church is now the victim of its own hypocrisy. The “best life now” mindset the church facilitated created a vacuum for the culture’s new utopian vision to find a home.
We now find ourselves married to the world. Achieving happiness on the world’s terms, however, is an all-consuming business. Our problems are now far more complicated than they once were. Little did we know the flood what would come in when we starting accepting things like divorce (who talks about that anymore?), sex scandals, worldly worship. And who is ever acquainted with church discipline?
The remaking a Christianity without standards has been a deadly project. Now we are faced with culture demanding that happiness equates with the freedom to marry the same sex, the freedom to identify with whatever gender one decides, and freedom to obliterate distinctions between men and women. Further, intersectionality and critical race theory demand full submission and are required be a core tenant of our message if we are to have acceptance or recognition, at all, in the broader culture. We are told not to expect any to come through our doors unless we submit to the newest theories of oppression.
The culture now has proposed a list of demands that are not presented as options for the church. The world’s project has invaded the church and the message is clear: You will bow down at the altar of our newly defined norms or you will not be welcome anymore as a church in this nation. That’s right around the corner, if not already here.
Not surprisingly, the church is now invaded with a plethora of leading evangelical elites who have suddenly become expert social justice activists; a new brand of Pharisee fills the church who now stands in judgement over historic Christianity as he waves the culture’s new morality in the face of Christianity’s classic creation norms. The Christianity of our day is full of teachers attempting to fuse Christianity with the larger utopian project of solving all of the world’s injustices, on their terms. The result is a new brand of American church, wedded together with the theology of wokeness. It’s a really bad union.
The Forgotten Antithesis
For any progress to be made toward recovering historic Christianity in America, there must be reacquaintance with the Bible’s teaching on the antithesis between the church and the world. We need to feel the stunning pain of James’ warning: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is hatred of God? (Jas. 4:4).”
Consider Jesus’ words: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” Jesus spoke of the world has having an “appointed” disgust, and hostility for the believer. Because I have chosen you, said Jesus, therefore, you are hated. This is a categorical separation that defines the relationship. The fruit of God’s election and union with Christ is the rewarded hatred of the world.
It was for this reason that Jesus gave a lot of time explaining why the world hated him: “The world hates me because I testify that its works are evil (Joh 7:7).” Jesus told the truth about sin. Jesus spoke the law of God when it came to the clear moral sins of the day. He spoke, with great authority, about the terrible predicament people are in because sin before a holy God, and that people had to repent and believe in him to avoid dying in their sins. All of this had a goal, of course, that people would receive forgiveness and mercy.
The Christian church in America today is now fearful to speak this way. This language is fast to be legislated against as hate speech. But our silence has helped to obliterate Jesus’ ordained antithesis. We are now simply reaping the consequences of our unholy union. This divine separation is the forgotten antithesis of the American church.
Breaking the Unholy Union
What is needed most in the American church is repentance of our worldliness and failure to hear the Bible’s call to separate from the world. “Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues (Rev. 18:4).” How do we best accomplish this Biblical separation?
First, we must appreciate that Jesus said his followers are not greater than him. In John 15, when Jesus explained the hatred of the world, he said, “Remember the word that I said to you: A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.” This was concluded with Jesus saying their hatred fulfilled what was written in their law, “they hated me without a cause.” Christians, by and large, have rejected the identity Jesus assigned to them through this ordained antithesis. American Christians need a fresh appreciation of our righteous, separate identity in Christ. It’s the greatest privilege to receive the opposition of the world; it showcases our union with Christ. It was for this reason the apostles rejoiced when beaten for their faith, recognizing that Jesus counted them worthy to suffer for his name sake.
Second, we need a proper fear of God again in the church. Jesus had a message for compromisers in his kingdom, and it went like this: “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, For so did their fathers to the false prophets (Luk 6:26).” If someone claiming to be a Christian is accepted by the world, or never spoken against, or never brings offense, or refuses to stand for the truth, while simultaneously tolerating ideas and practices that are against God’s law, such a person is not a Christian. We have to be willing to say this. Strongly. Any progress toward the church being the church (as the axiom goes), begins with a proper fear of who we follow, recognizing that true Christianity fears him who can kill the body and soul in hell.
Third, we have to be willing to speak the whole truth. The world hated Jesus for testifying that the world’s deeds are evil. This is our responsibility too. Jesus explained to his disciples that truth speaking fulfills Christian witness: “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin (Joh 15:22).” Part of the purpose of speaking the truth is to vindicate the righteous judgement of God (2 Thess. 1:5ff). The partisan divide of our day trains people to speak only the “sins” of the other side. Christians have to be willing to tell the whole truth as God’s defines right and wrong, with an ability to stand outside the world’s divide, remembering that God’s purposes are being accomplished in the earth through the spoken truth.
Further, our goal in speaking the truth is not condemnation, but rather that people would come to the know the gospel of the forgiveness of sins. Paul wanted to go to Rome to preach the gospel to Nero. Our greatest enemies should be the object of our concern, that they might be set free in the truth of the gospel as we have. To tell them the truth about sin, righteousness, and the judgment to come (the expressed mission of the Holy Spirit) should have the aim for people to be forgiven of their sins. It is this kind of truth telling that accomplishes our separation from the world and fulfills the purpose for which Jesus left us here.
The best way for to refuse the culture’s incitement to submission will be accomplished when we remember that Jesus called his church to be separate, in every way, by refusing to love the world.