American Civil Religion vs. True Christianity


In my previous post, “The Only Martyr’s Death Worth Dying,” I began to explore differences that exist between true Christian faith and the mishmash we often practice in America. A fancy word for this melange exists, syncretism, which is the blending of two different ideas or practices into one. Often those ideas or practices are contradictory, yet the practitioner cannot recognize the inherent contradictions.

Nowhere is this syncretism more apparent than in America. The narrative of our country and the narrative of the Kingdom of God have syncretized so profoundly that the religion far too many self-proclaimed Christians in America practice isn’t true Christianity at all but something I like to call American Civil Religion.

God, Guns & Guts

How this ties into my previous post is that most people who oppose Christianity in America are not haters of true Christianity but of American Civil Religion. Where this is sad for the American Church is that most people cannot tell the difference. They think American Civil Religion (ACR) IS true Christianity.

Part of that confusion is due to the syncretism that spawned ACR. Because some elements of true Christianity are sprinkled throughout ACR, it looks like a twin, but to people who are discerning, the differences are stark.

The funny thing about ACR is that many who embody it are also quick to talk about “another Gospel,” as in this passage:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
—Galatians 1:6-9

Yet which gospel do we Americans actually affirm?

Here are six distinctions between American Civil Religion and true Christianity:

1. Bogeymen

ACR lives and dies by its bogeymen. Someone or something must be opposed and feared. The current president. Illegal aliens. Communism. Tyranny. Standardized testing in schools. Homosexuals. Liberals. Socialists. Blacks. Whites. Jews. Muslims. Middle East dictators. Loss of values. Loss of freedoms. Loss of rights. There is always a threatening bogeyman or two, and this galvanizes those enmeshed in ACR. It’s almost a lifeblood element.

Unlike some of the items on this list, true Christianity does not have an analogous issue. The closest bogeyman the true Christian gets is Satan. Like the decapitated rattlesnake in its death throes that can still bite by reflex, Satan is not safe, but for the true Christian, he is a defeated opponent. And defeated opponents make for lousy bogeymen. The Bible reminds us that our respect and awe are reserved for God alone, and when we abide in Christ, Satan has no power over us. Fearing bogeymen is not a concern for the true Christian. If anything, when ACR’s bogeymen are actual people and groups, the true Christian is called to show love to those bogeymen and pray for them.

2. Fear

Because bogeymen play so well into the ACR narrative, fear must result. Fear is ever-present in the heart of ACR practitioners. They will know they are ACR by their fear.

But true Christians understand that fear and faith don’t mix. The perfect love of God casts out all fear. The true Christian cannot be a slave to fear because he or she abides in Christ. And what can assail Christ? Nothing and no one. They will know they are Christians by their love.

3. Loss

People enmeshed in ACR are obsessed with loss. In America, the ACR narrative forever talks about loss of rights, freedoms, our “Christian heritage,” and so on. Yet above these is the greatest loss of all for ACR proponents: loss of control. Again, this plays into fear.

True Christian faith recognizes that there is nothing to lose because everything has been lost already. “You have died, and your life is now hidden in Christ,” writes the Apostle Paul. “You are not your own; you have been bought with a price,” he adds. Loss means nothing because no one and nothing can take away Jesus. Likewise, the Christian cannot be removed from Him. If anything, loss brings joy in the life of the Christian, because losing the dross of the world means more room to gain Christ.

4. God & ____________

ACR is forever pairing God with something or someone. God & Country. God & Guns. God & Military. God & GOP. We even have a concept in American history that embodies this concept in two words: Manifest Destiny. Want to legitimize any “righteous” cause for the ACR? Pair it with God.

The true Christian avoids creating anything that forces God to share His Glory, because God will not share it, ever. The closest the true Christian gets is to abide in Christ—God & the Church, and even then God remains the sole focus of our worship.

5. Kingdoms

In ACR, it’s America first. Always. When asked their citizenship, ACR believers will respond with “America” and almost never “Heaven.” Still, kingdoms perplex ACR. “King”-anything recalls America’s revolution and smacks of tyranny. That noted, an underlying desire in many ACR proponents is to be a sort of new Kingdom of Israel here in the United States. For this reason, those enmeshed in ACR tend to quote from the Old Testament at the expense of the New in their apologetics. However, while ACR believers will quote Bible verses to support the essentials of their “faith,” those verses often have no structure to undergird the actual Kingdom of God.

In stark contrast, true Christianity recognizes the New Testament’s Kingdom of God as the framework for everything the Christian says and does. Scripture is used in a way that perpetually goes back to this Kingdom and its Now and Not Yet reality. In that reality, Christ is King and Christians are Citizens of a Heavenly Kingdom. America, as a political entity, must always be a distant second in allegiance. The Christian’s ambassadorship is for Christ and His Kingdom alone. (This is a primary area of concern for true Christianity in America because the Church here perpetually struggles with its Kingdom of God narrative, largely due to the nonstop noise coming from ACR.)

6. Self

Self is at the heart of ACR. Our way of living. Our freedoms. Our rights. Our country. Yet even in the midst of all that “our” lies a whole lot of “me.”

Selflessness is at the heart of true Christianity. The Christian esteems others better than himself. She lives for Christ, dies to self, and considers doing so a privilege. The Kingdom of God matters, and the individual Christian within it not so much. Jesus must increase and all who love Him must decrease.

It doesn’t take much effort to see the differences between ACR and true Christianity, yet few of us make the distinction. People who don’t know God can’t make this distinction at all, and this should concern those of us who don’t want to perpetuate ACR. When ACR is mistaken for true Christian faith and practices, everyone loses.

None of this is to say that you and I can’t be Christians and Americans too. Nor does it imply that we can’t be “rah-rah America.” National pride does not negate Christian belief or vice versa. It’s a matter of allegiance. For the Christian, the allegiance is to Christ, and nothing can supercede this. The true Christian’s real citizenship is not in any earthly political entity but in an unseen one in which the Lord rules.

If this post makes you mad, consider that you’re mad because our American Civil Religion is so engrained in everything we say, do, and live in America. Consider that ACR is a false gospel based on fear. Consider its selfishness. Consider that it obfuscates true Christianity. Consider that perhaps it’s what non-Christians hate most of all. Consider that ACR has become your faith and mine instead of true Christianity.

Then, do something about it.

The Only Martyr’s Death Worth Dying


'The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer' by Jean-Léon GérômeChristians in the United States are increasingly alarmed at the rise of the martyrdom of fellow believers across the world. When dying for our faith comes to our own shores, it’s even more troubling.

Jesus said this:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”
—John 15:18

We often think of the tossing of Christians to the lions in ancient Rome when we think of being hated for the Faith.

A list of Christian faith and practice that drew the attention of the Romans:

  • Rapidly spreading the Faith throughout Rome
  • Caring for infants otherwise left to die
  • Caring for the sick, infirm, and elderly
  • Affording women rights ordinarily not given to them
  • Expressing monotheistic beliefs about the nature of God

Only one of the above, though, convinced Roman leaders to send Christians to die a martyr’s death in the Colosseum.

Today, the following beliefs and practices of Christians in the United States raise the ire of those who might hate us:

  • Espousing a pro-life / anti-abortion stance
  • Supporting conservative politicians and politics
  • Opposing same-sex marriage
  • Making wild predictions about End Times
  • Opposing permissive cultural mores

Can you spot the telling difference between the two lists?

What got Christians martyred in Rome? Their monotheistic view of God. It was how Christians depicted the nature of God that Roman leaders saw as an immediate threat. The other factors may have contributed, but they were not the final cause. (I would recommend Rodney Stark’s The Triumph of Christianity for further details.)

Today, fellow believers in other countries are martyred for the same reason as ancient Christians in Rome. Consider too the message of the apostles. It was their view of who God is, talking about Jesus, and putting Him above all else that enraged others enough to kill them.

If you and I must die a martyr’s death, the only real martyrdom, the only genuine reason to die for the Christian faith, is the person of Jesus. Be hated because we believe Jesus Christ is Lord.

Being hated for anything on that second list is not the point. Being hated for being opinionated about social issues, or voting for conservative politicians, or for homeschooling, or for anything else that is not Jesus is not martyrdom for the Faith.

Meditate on that earlier Bible verse for a moment.

I write this today because of my concern that we may be unclear on this. The way we talk about why people might hate Christians has little to do with the person of Jesus Christ and what we think about Him. Instead, it seems to be about our opinions on everything else.

There’s enough scandal in the person of Jesus and what He said and did to rock anyone’s world. But, in the United States, is Jesus truly the primary reason people hate Christians? If not, then we need to change the focus of our rhetoric.

One day, if they do come us, let’s ensure we die for the right reason.

Blood Moons, Shemitah,, and Last Days Nonsense


Four Horsemen of the ApocalypseWhere I live, everyone has been running around like crazy, preparing. Kids are off school. People have been buzzing about how it might all go down, and who will be chosen and who will not. Some have been anxious, others elated. What has long been awaited is finally upon us.

In other words, it’s the week of the county fair.

You thought perhaps I was speaking of something else?

Like that blood moon thing. Oh, that’s yesterday’s news. Who’s going to win Best of Show in cattle is more important right now.

As for me, I’m not so much a county fair person. I’m more concerned with the aftermath of this month of September within the pathetic prophetic community in charismatic and dispensationalist Christianity.

An unhealthy fascination with the Jewish holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which fall within September, is an area of concern. This year is also a Jubilee year in Judaism, which happens every 50 years (7 X 7 Shemitah years plus one) and marks a time of the forgiving of debts and the releasing of those in bondage of any kind. Add in the blood moon tetrad we just experienced, and all manner of End Times craziness afflicted us in 2015.

Over at Charisma magazine online ( and it’s sister site,, it’s business as usual, save for a few rare posts wondering why nothing happened. For the last year or so, these sites have been spewing predictions about this month’s eschatological “certainties.” I know this because my Facebook pages have been strewn with Christians posting End Times articles sourced from these two websites.

What was supposed to happen as prophetically announced through various pricey books, DVDs, teaching seminars, and other big money generators was the end of the world, the Second Coming of Christ, the exposing of the Beast and Antichrist, the Last Battle, all manner of Israel-related stuff, signs in the heavens, and signs on earth.

Oh, and that Catholic leader guy visited America. Surely he had to fit into all that too. Had to. Gotta read all the signs.

Here’s the scorecard:

Blood moon tetrad events – FAIL

Wonders related to Shemitah – FAIL

Attacks on Israel – FAIL

Armageddon – FAIL

The Second Coming of Christ – FAIL

The Rapture of the Church – FAIL

Wow, that’s surprising, isn’t it? Not one of those things either happened or signaled anything.

What gets me is that we’ll go on about our business, get ready for fairs, go to work, cheer or lament our local football teams, and nowhere will there be an admission from all these “prophets” who made a fortune hocking End Times nonsense that they were ultimately dead wrong about everything they predicted. And nowhere will there be an apology from the editiorial staff at Charisma that they rode this nuttiness for all it was worth and that they’re sorry for having done so.

I fully believe that Jesus will return one day. I fully believe it will be during a time of great unrest and turmoil. I fully believe that a war between the forces of God and the forces of Satan will erupt sometime in the future.

But all these End Times predictions by self-anointed prophets in polyester suits seem more like astrology, numerology, divination, and outright witchcraft than anything Christian that proceeds from the throne of God Almighty.

God is not a god of error, confusion, and fear. He is not found in earthquakes and windstorms, but instead speaks in a still, small voice, yet one that carries devastating and lasting authority.

My advice to fellow believers is to stop funding and promoting charlatans who attempt to make money by peddling loud, scary predictions. Just stop. Please. Don’t buy their materials and don’t repeat their silliness in social media and elsewhere.

I also hope you will consider that today will be no different than yesterday, and that no apologies will come from those who spoke wrongly. Consider that sometime in the next year we will get another run-up of predictions heading into next September, and by the same “prophets,” and they will be wrong then too.

Whatever we do, we cannot and should not forget or excuse these failed prophetic words. We cannot go on as if the failure of these predictions does not matter. The only way the Church can be strengthened is if we stop supporting the predictions and predictors. One reason lost people no longer look to the Church for answers is because of this nonsense. It must be dealt with.

If any of us fell for all this, we should not lie to ourselves that we didn’t. Instead, we should get before God and get real with Him about our obsession with all things End Times and our tendency to fall for related nonsense. My fear is, if we don’t deal with it, should the Liar of All Liars arise in our lifetimes, we will believe his or her lies just as readily as we believed all these mistaken “prophets.”

I will add that perhaps we should examine the truthfulness of our eschatology. Is falling for this again and again a sign that perhaps what we believe about the End Times is flat-out wrong? Christians have held many differing views of the End. Perhaps the one we currently hold is incorrect.

In conclusion, I offer this.

The smartest religious people of Jesus’ day completely blew both the prediction of His first coming and its means. They got everything so hopelessly wrong that even when the anticipated Messiah stood before them, they could not see.

I believe Christ’s Second Coming will be just as surprising and confounding. It won’t occur the way we think or at the time we believe is most perfect. Yes, we are in the Last Days, but God has not stated to us the exact number of those days.

Until that Final Day of these Last Days, keep doing the work of the Kingdom and relax in letting God choose when and how He will bring it all to its conclusion.