Reclaiming America For Christ

One of the primary arguments that I want to make in this brief article is that Christians in America have relied too much on politics to change the world when in fact our focus should be on the good news of Jesus Christ. How did we get to this point?

Brief history of the Moral Majority

falwell and ronald reaganThe Moral Majority was started in 1979 by Jerry Falwell, a Southern Baptist pastor, who worked to unite other conservative evangelicals to address what they saw as the problems in American society.

There were lots of things going on in American culture in the 70s and 80s that led to the formation of the Moral Majority. Abortion, gay rights, sexual immorality, humanism in the public schools, liberal Supreme Court rulings, etc.

But could there be more behind what really got the Moral Majority started in the first place?  You can go HERE to read some other theories as to what inspired the Moral Majority to move into action in the first place.

Getting involved in politics is a good thing

On a personal note, I want to say that I strongly believe that it is good for Christians to be very involved in the political world. One of my heroes is William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was a British politician who worked zealously to end the slave trade that was prominent in his day. In order for Christians to live as salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) they must engage the world they live in rather than retreat or withdraw.

So what was the problem with the Moral Majority?

Paul Michael Weyrich, co-founder of the Moral Majority with Jerry Falwell, wrote these words, “When political power is achieved, the moral majority will have the opportunity to re-create this great nation.” Re-create the nation? Really? Does anyone today really think that our nation has been “re-created”? Ed Dobson who co-authored the book, “Blinded By Might: Can The Religious Right Save America?” wrote these words as he pondered the impact his time working for the Moral Majority had in American culture:

Did the Moral Majority really make a difference? During the height of the Moral Majority, we were taking in millions of dollars a year. We published a magazine, organized state chapters, lobbied Congress, aired a radio program, and more. Did it work? Is the moral condition of America better because of our efforts? Even a casual observation of the current moral climate suggests that despite all the time, money and energy-despite the political power-we failed. Things have not gotten better; they have gotten worse.

What are the unintended consequences of making an idol of politics?

One of the unintended consequences for being so involved in the world of politics, and losing sight of the power of the gospel, is that Christians have become known more for their political ideology than they are for mercy, compassion and love. Thomas Kidd puts it like this, “In short, evangelicals have gone from being known as born again Christians, to being known as religious Republicans.”

But there are other consequences as well. By engaging in a culture war we have alienated the very people that need to hear the gospel story. Our angry rhetoric pushes people away from us because we have been treating them like our enemy and not the lost sheep that Jesus came to die for (Luke 15:1-7).

Is there a better way?

As Christians we should long to see the world changed and actively work towards that end. Of course what we should strive to do is evaluate the way we are living and contrast it with what we read in Scripture. What do we learn from observing the life of Jesus and the apostle Paul?

Jesus emphasized serving

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” -Matthew 20:25-28

Jesus’ disciples completely misunderstood that it meant to be a part of the kingdom of God. In Matthew 20 we see James and John come to Jesus seeking power and glory and Jesus has to redirect them and tell them that they way that the kingdom of God flourishes is when Christians seek to put others first and serve them.

Question: How are you, and your church, serving others in your neighborhood and city?

Jesus emphasized making disciples

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” -Matthew 28:18-20

Jesus spent the bulk of his ministry years making disciples who would go on and make disciples. This was Jesus’ plan for changing the world, spending time with people, helping them to become more like him, and then releasing them so that they could go and do likewise. What is our plan for changing the world? Does it look like the method that Jesus employed?

Question: Who are you discipling?

Jesus and Paul emphasized love

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. -1 Corinthians 13:1-3

The apostle Paul makes it abundantly clear in 1 Corinthians 13 that if there is anything that Christians should be known for it is love.

What does this love look like? Love is not winning an argument. Love is not an insulting meme that belittles our political rivals. Love has a heart filled with compassion that longs to see the lost sons and daughters of God come to know the grace of Jesus Christ.

Question: Are you known on social media, and in everyday life, for being a person of compassion and love?

The spirit of the moral majority lives on today

There is no doubt that some of the negative aspects of the Moral Majority, and the Religious Right, are alive and well today. The problem is that it is such a part of the air that we breath that we have a hard time seeing the error of our ways. The key will be for Christians today to refocus on the words, and the life, of Jesus Christ and how he worked to transform this fallen world.

Are you changing the world or fanning the flames?

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ you have a desire to make a difference in this world. The thing that is causing me great concern lately is that it would seem that far too many Christians are actually doing more harm than good when it comes to making the world a better place.

The best place to look when it comes to an example to follow is, of course, Jesus Christ. Jesus came to this earth out of a desire to bring abundant life to a world that desperately needed it (John 10:10). So what we need to do is examine the way that Jesus spent his time. We need to carefully contemplate his methods for ushering in his kingdom and bringing lasting change.

So, how did Jesus do it? Yes, of course he lived a perfect life, died on a cross, and three days later he rose from the grave victoriously. Praise God, this is the heart of the gospel story! But Jesus has given you and I a specific mission, something that he personally modeled during his three years with his disciples.

Here it is, Jesus discipled 12 men. Yep, that was his grand plan. Jesus was super relational. He got to know people who were far from the Father and built deep, meaningful relationships with them. He prayed with them. He ate with them. He taught them the Scriptures. He loved them. He partnered with them in ministry. He taught them to go and do likewise.

Some where along the way the Great Commission has been hijacked by a culture war. Dictionary.com defines a culture war like this, “a conflict between groups with different ideals, beliefs, philosophies, etc.” Issues that we Americans are willing to fight about include abortion, climate change, claims about absolute truth, conservative vs. progressive,  LGBT rights, immigration, racism, global warming, standing or kneeling, the right to die, etc. Wikipedia points out that the phrase “culture wars” became a part of our everyday vocabulary when James Davison Hunter wrote his book in 1991 called, “Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America.”

Is it possible that you are caught up in the culture war and are not even aware of it? Maybe you are not sure. What does it look like to be fighting a culture war?

  • You focus too much on winning arguments.
  • You have an unhealthy anger towards people on the other side of the political aisle and it is eating you alive.
  • You are known more for what you are against than what you are for.
  • You emphasize the passing of laws over the need for salvation.
  • You believe a post on social media is more effective than having a neighbor over for a meal.
  • You don’t pray as much as you use to.
  • You are anxious and worried instead of hopeful and optimistic.
  • You have never discipled anyone and have no plans to do so.
  • You have forgotten Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Maybe you are thinking that just a little cultural warfare can’t really be all that bad. 

So this begs a question. How in the world have we taken the command to make disciples and twisted it into fighting an angry culture war? I believe there are three primary reasons why so many Christians have gotten involved in a culture war.

hypnotized by TVFirst of all, let me say that I do not believe Christians have consciously decided that they want to minimize the Great Commission and engage in a culture war. I think it happens because it is the air that we breathe. The culture war is raging all the time on social media and in the news. Before we know it, we Christians are fighting the same way that the world fights. We are using their weapons and we are only fanning the flames of anger and outrage all around us. Tragically, we are making things worse, not better.

Second, we have lost sight of what the true solution is to our cultural problem(s). Jesus said “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (John 15:19) All of the bad behavior that we see in society today comes from the sin nature that is a part of each and everyone of us. The only thing powerful enough to change the human heart is the good news of Jesus Christ. So, when we are consumed with the culture war we are often times failing to address the main problem, the sinful heart of men and women.

Third, fighting a culture war is easy and our sin nature loves it. It is much easier to fire off an angry post on Facebook or Twitter than it is to get involved in a meaningful, personal relationship. Let’s be honest, you simply can’t follow Jesus and refuse to invest in the lives of other people. Jesus told us many times that to follow him would be costly and, quite honestly, many of us don’t want to pay the price (Luke 14:25-34).

I am not advocating for the unbiblical idea that Christians should retreat from the world and live in a holy huddle. It’s great for Christians to be involved in politics and to speak up about the issues of our day and time. Personally, I would love to see Roe v. Wade overturned. But we need to always remember that our hope is in God alone, not in the POTUS or the Supreme Court. 

Let me wrap this up by asking you what are some practical steps you can begin taking to build relationships with people in your neighborhood, workplace, school and city? It is in the context of relationships that the gospel is able to work it’s way into the deepest parts of our lives. Jesus’ plan for changing the world has not changed, disciples making disciples.

Let’s recommit to actually living the way that Jesus lived so that we can make this world a better place (instead of fanning the flames). Let’s be known for being the most relational, loving people in the world.

Angry Christians and the Compassion of God

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” -Matthew 5:43-44

Jonah had just preached the shortest sermon recorded in Scripture to the wicked residents of Nineveh. The very thing that Jonah was nervous about happened; the Ninevites repented of their sin.

Here is how the prophet Jonah responded to revival breaking out in Nineveh:

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. -Jonah 4:1-2

Everything in this story is upside down. The prophet of God is rebellious and the wicked city of Nineveh is repentant.

But don’t miss this, a direct contrast is being made between Jonah and the God he claims to be serving. Jonah is angry and God is merciful and slow to anger. The point being made is quite clear. We need to be less like Jonah and more like God. We need to drop the unrighteous anger and instead become people of compassion.

It seems to me that there is more anger and rage present today among confessing Christians than what I have witnessed in the past. You see it online in the name calling, demonizing spiritual and political opponents, and the failure to love people who are different than us.

“The tragedy is that in the name of resisting the internal deterioration of faith and the corruption of the world around them, many Christians – and Christian conservatives most significantly – unwittingly embrace some of the most corrosive aspects of the cultural disintegration they decry. By nurturing its resentments, sustaining them through a discourse of negation toward outsiders, and in cases, pursuing their will to power, they become functional Nietzscheans, participating in the very cultural breakdown they so ardently strive to resist.” -James Davison Hunter

Here is a critically important question, why do we react with rage and anger when God is calling his people first and foremost to be people of compassion? I think there are a variety of answers to this question but I will highlight three.

  • Christians are angry because they feel like they are losing ground in today’s culture war. As Christians we are accustomed to our society being under-girded by our faith. What we find unsettling is that our American culture is increasingly becoming post-Christian and therefore more secularized. The result is that people are losing their mind when others do not see politics or the world the same way they do. My opinion is that we should not be fighting a culture war in the first place. Our rage and commitment to winning arguments is not going to change the world. Deep down we know this, right? What will make a difference is if the world sees Christians entering into this suffering world with the love and compassion of Jesus Christ.
  • Christians are angry because they care about the wrong things. You know how the story ends. Even after God explains that he is going to withdraw his judgment upon Nineveh Jonah heads up to a hill for a better view just in case God does decide to wipe them out. As Jonah is watching and waiting God provides a plant to give him some shade from the heat of the sun. Then God sends a worm to destroy the plant and Jonah’s response is that he would rather die than deal with the heat. What God was exposing in Jonah’s heart is that he cared more for his own comfort than he did the eternal destiny of the Ninevites. This begs the question, what do we care more about? Our material possessions, careers, success and comfort or to see people entering into the kingdom of God?
  • Christians are angry because they are losing sight of the basics of the gospel. I really think this is the huge, underlying problem with how Christians are responding to our culture today. Jesus died for us when we were dead and lost in our sin. We were living a rebellious life and had done nothing to merit the compassion of Jesus. Yet Christ still pursued us out of a heart filled with great compassion. When we truly comprehend these gospel truths we discover that there is no room for unrighteous anger towards others who are lost without Christ. “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” -Romans 2:4

Let’s be honest, being angry is the much easier option than living as people of compassion. When we are motivated by unrighteous anger we don’t need to bother with being led by the Holy Spirit. When we are angry we are more likely to stay in our house, behind our locked doors, and far away from others who are different than us. Compassion is going to require much more from us. The church is not called to simply vote for politicians who will meet the needs of our hurting world. The church is called to get involved itself and to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.

So the question before us is the same one God asked Jonah at the end of chapter 4. Is it good for you to be angry?

Picture is taken from dailycallerdotcom

World Vision, The Movie Noah, And Mercy

One of the aspects of our current Christian culture that saddens me is the judgmental, critical manner in which we treat one another. Think of all the buzz that was created on social media about the movie Noah and World Vision. It would seem that we love to sit around, evaluate what our brothers and sisters are doing, and then spend an inordinate amount of time nit-picking what they did and did not do correctly.

Sounds familiar…

Lord of the SabbathAt the time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.”

Couple observations…

  • Jesus and his disciples were not breaking the laws of God, they were breaking the man made traditions that the Scribes made up to protect the law.
  • Didn’t the Pharisees have something a bit more redemptive to do with their time? Critiquing the behavior of others? Criticizing the disciples for…eating? Broken and hurting people all around them and this is what they are obsessed with? Deep sigh…

Jesus is very clear with the Pharisees that their focus is dead wrong. He says in verse 7, “And if you had known what this means, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the guiltless.” Jesus is quoting from Hosea 6 and is strongly rebuking the Pharisees for focusing on the rules of religion while at the same time failing to be a people of mercy.

I would like suggest a few points of application…

  • Make an effort to be more careful on social media about throwing others under the proverbial bus. Is it really the best use of our time? What would it look like instead to walk in the ways of Love?
  • Turn the TV/laptop off and put the phone down. Spend some time getting to know your neighbors. Ask questions, listen, talk and just enjoy the company of the amazing people all around you.
  • The only way we will ever change from critiquing/criticizing to being a people of mercy is by slowing down and spending time with the Lord of the Sabbath. We will never have the heart of Jesus if we have no margin in our life to unplug and spend time in his presence.

 

Politics and Misplaced Hope

There were a few Jews in the 1st century who were waiting for a Messiah to deliver them from their sins (Matthew 1:21); but the vast majority were longing for a Messiah to come in political power and to end Roman domination.

That is why when Jesus was incarnated as a homeless baby so many Jews failed to grasp that the kingdom of God had arrived. Come on, how could this guy lead an organized rebellion against the forces of Rome?

politics.jpgI’m thinking we are not much different today from the majority of Jews in the 1st century. I listen to so many of my brothers and sisters who are outraged by what is going on in our world and shake their fist at D.C. It would seem, just like in the days of Jesus, Christians today are expecting the kingdom of God to advance through political means. As I reflect on all this anger it leaves me with this simple thought, many Christians today have misplaced their hope.

I firmly believe that Christians should be engaged in every arena of life, including politics. But the hope of the nations is the same today as it was in the 1st century, Jesus Christ. Lest we forget, we the church are the body of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27).

So maybe all this angry rhetoric and hand-wringing we do about politics is a big, colossal waste of time. Perhaps it reveals something even more insidious, we don’t truly understand the gospel.

“If you are devastated or irate over the outcome of a presidential election, relax. Things will be okay. We only need, and already have, one Messiah. And he did not lose this election. If you are ecstatic about an election outcome, relax. Take inventory. We only need, and already have, one Messiah. And he did not win this election.” -Scott Sauls

In the gospel we see Jesus humble himself through the incarnation, live as a blue-collar worker, become a friend of sinners, extend grace and mercy, enter into the brokenness of society to bring healing. How do we look at the life of Jesus then come to the conclusion that we should spend our time fighting a culture war? If we truly understood the gospel we would spend less time blaming Washington and more time walking in the ways of Jesus.

Above pic taken from DNews