I almost always post on Monday. I didn’t yesterday because I was thinking more about my post from Friday, “Why Christianity Is Failing in America.” A couple readers asked the question I knew would come—””So how do we fix the problem?”—which led me into all sorts of introspective thought.
I don’t like raising problems without at least some stab at a solution. There are a million Christian blogs out there moaning about this problem and that, and I don’t want Cerulean Sanctum to simply add to the collective complaint. I’m looking for answers.
The question of how to overcome the kind of half-baked, slacker mentality that permeates American Christendom needs better brains and souls than mine to find lasting answers. I struggle with this morass we find ourselves in as much as anyone. I’m not sure how to extricate myself, much less provide life-changing answers to anyone else.
Still, a few core concepts might lead to resolution:
1. We Christians must stop worrying about what others think. For all our talk in America of being individuals, for all our love of the iconoclast who does it his way, for all our national pride at stepping up to the plate when no other country will, we Americans are stunningly conformist. And we are that way largely because we are scared to death of suffering eternal damnation because someone in the fast lane might think we’re not good enough.
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
The Church of Jesus Christ in these here United States will keep on preserving the status quo as long as we fear men. And truly, we are shaking in our boots at what others think of us. Such a group will never be martyred. But it’s going to take some level of personal sacrifice to break the self-conscious chains that tie us to conformity to the world.
2. We have got to take time apart from the world and reconnect with the brains God gave us. We Christians in America are some of the least introspective people in the universe. Talk of the “examined life” goes right over our heads.
If I could wish one thing for American Christians right now it would be to jettison whatever it is that keeps us distracted 24/7/365 (even church-related stuff), and get before God in silence to pray.
But more than prayer, I think that modern Christians must take back time from wordly living to do something even more necessary in light of the times we live in: We must think and meditate.
I am continuously startled by how pragmatism is rapidly undermining the base that Christianity was built upon. We’ve become people who fail to consider the consequences of each “new thing” we promote, even when those things seem on the surface to be great for the Church. Fact is, most aren’t. “Because we can, we should” is practically the mantra of contemporary Christianity in the West. And it is that way because we live unexamined lives. We bought the world’s marketing and we’re remaking the Church in a pragmatist image.
The way we are headed, perhaps we should just jettison the pretense and go for it. I hear about the lack of men in churches today. So why toss another chunk of change at yet another doomed-to-fail men’s program purchasable from whatever the hottest new church is? Just put up the stripper poles and hire a few hot things in skimpy outfits to dance before the service. It would work. You could probably find a Bible verse taken way out of context to support it, too.
Too extreme? Well, that’s what happens when Christians don’t take time to think about the consequences of everything we do. We’ve trapped ourselves in this race to the bottom because we turned off our brains during our rush to consume and be stylin’, with-it individuals like everyone else.
3. We have got to question the way we do EVERYTHING. We can go on and on about how Jesus turned the world on its head when He walked the earth, yet we go out from our Sunday meetings to live conformist lives that never question the status quo.
In concert with the call to sit in silence before God while asking Him to respark our burned-out minds, we Christians must begin anew to ask the question WHY. This is not an exercise with re-evaluating our doctrine. Too many churches fry their theology in the crucible of why. Instead, we need to place every aspect of our praxis as believers in America under the white hot stage lights of why.
Why do we sink enormous amounts of money into church buildings? Why do we slave in jobs outside the home? Why do we put our kids in private Christian schools? Why do we read only Christian novels? Why do we follow a church service order of worship, announcements, offering, sermon, go home? Why do we have a youth ministry? Why are there so few Christian leaders on the national stage who are making a difference? Why do we buy items made in the country of China that actively persecutes our fellow Christians? Why do we depend on others to feed us? Why are we letting Muslims outreproduce us? Why are there still orphanages? Why are we not making disciples? Why do so many of us wonder if we’re truly saved?
People looking to replace their “old” iPod they’ve had for two whole years don’t ask the question why. They don’t question anything except why they didn’t get their new gizmo in the mail the next day despite paying for overnight shipping.
People in the Church in America, on the whole, are not asking why. And worse, we’re not following up the why with the answer that the Gospel will give us. And that’s largely the reason why we keep doing things the world’s way and not the Lord’s.
4. Genuine community has never before been so needed. When Christians start sitting in silence before God, begin holding up their practices to God to be examined under the question of why and the Gospel’s reply, the next step is for the Christian community to join together to take what has been gained and change the world.
What Christian community?
Oh. Yeah. Hmm.
I no longer support the long-cherished belief that it takes one person to change the world. Fact is, with 6.5 billion people on this planet, nothing happens outside of groups. I can radically change my behavior and little around me will change. By its sheer enormity our culture tamps out whatever fires I may start as an individual.
Any godly change that will make a difference in the world today will not come through a scattered set of individuals but a like-minded group of hundreds—such as your typical church. That so few churches are able to spark that kind of change in their localities…well, you get the point.
The problems we face as a Church in America cannot be addressed by individual martyrs. And it’s going to take martyrs to buck the massive systems we’ve erected that blind us to the Lord’s way. You can crush an individual. It’s more complicated to crush several hundred people. The pressure is more equalized among all involved, with fewer individuals likely to crack entirely. (That’s the Body of Christ working as a genuine body, with each organ supporting the others.)
If I jump off the bridge, I make a small splash. But if several hundred jump with me, look out for the wave…
5. “Seek first the Kingdom” cannot be relegated to a platitude. Every Christian in the United States will raise his or her hand to the question of “How many here are seeking first the Kingdom?” But the biggest lie we Christians tell on a day to to day basis concerns how much we’re truly committed to that truth.
If you are a Christian, seeking the Kingdom first must necessarily change the entire way you live. It has to. That it’s not for so many of us only proves our failure to seek. We instead seek personal glory and comfort at the cost of discipleship. It’s as if we don’t believe in a life to come, only the vaporous reality of this physical world.
In America, pastors have the reins for leading people to Kingdom-mindedness, whether we (or they) like it or not. In truth, every one of us is charged to spur on our brothers and sisters to growth in Christ for His Kingdom. But sadly, until the Church here gets some momentum, pastors are it.
And so I ask pastors, why (there’s that question) do so few of your charges get what it means to seek the Kingdom first? Why is it that your people seek houses, promotions, vacations, and comfort above the Kingdom? Worse, why is it that you preach sermons that only fuel people’s desire to fill their lives with that which sets itself up against the Kingdom of God?
A simple example: I’ve heard a bazillion messages on how we Christians can prosper in our own lives, but I can’t ever remember hearing a sermon explaining why Christians should seek economic justice for the poor, even if it means they must become poor themselves to do so.
Genuine Christian education is in a freefall in this country. Our curriculum is a shambles of wordliness. Our sermons only prop up fallen kingdoms. Our people never see genuine Christian practice.
And it’s all because we’ve made the Kingdom of God a concept rather than a reality.
The Church in America will reverse its tragic trajectory when fearless groups of Christians who have meditated on the tough issues of our day, who ask the question why, band together and put the Kingdom first again.
That’s highly conceptual. I know that. But it’s going to be slightly different depending on where one lives and the strength (or weakness) of the local churches in that area. (Maybe I’ll provide some general practical advice in days to come.)
This is a genuine tar pit we’re in, folks, and we’re up to our necks in the world’s black goo. I will even go so far as to say that revival alone is not the cure-all. The Lord can light the fire, but we have got to be more serious about what we do when He does. And that will take many of us thinking while we challenge the status quo. Perhaps it will even take us rising up before the best of the fire falls.
I think that talk is not cheap in this case. I think talk can stir up the dissatisfaction that many of us feel. Perhaps that will build the momentum for a new American Church Revolution.
We can hang together or we can hang separately. God is giving us the choice.