The Two Christianities


Sometime around 12:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, as I shut down the lights in our downstairs in anticipation of going to bed, it hit me. I finally understood something about the Church that I’d never realized before. Some may not see what follows as any great revelation, but it jumped out at me so strongly that I nearly couldn’t go to sleep for thinking about the ramifications.

I haven’t processed it all, but I’d like to share what I discovered. Like I said, it may be a big ho-hum to you, Two roads diverged...but I now see why the Church in this country fails to grow and meet the basic objectives of discipleship.

Consider two different Christianities at work, the Externally Motivated and the Internally Motivated…

Externally Motivated (EM) Christianity sees the Kingdom of God existing in systems and institutions “erected by God” or by Christians faithful to God. The essence of what it means to be a Christian dwells in hallowed monolithic icons, largely existing outside the believer. We see the expression of EM Christianity whenever we encounter Christian groups and individuals seeking to preserve or defend some aspect of the truth they see encapsulated in a system, institution, or organization.

By nature, EM Christianity is conservative in that it works to retain and preserve those creations because it equates an assault on them with an assault on the Kingdom of God. EM Christianity bases much of its credo on the Old Testament and Old Covenant because Israel invested its faith in God through the accoutrements of God in the Temple, in the Ark, in the Law, and in the evidences of God it erected in the faithful community.

But negatives within EM Christianity abound. By equating systems and institutions with the Kingdom, EM Christianity becomes a fear-based expression of the Faith. Not a day goes by without some perceived threat erupting that may be “the final blow” to the hallowed structures maintained by “good Christians.” Therefore, EM Christianity assumes a defensive position at the least provocation because EM Christians live their lives from the outside in.

Furthermore, EM Christianity’s defensive stance exists to defend the community within EM Christianity, rather than looking beyond the group. In other words, it loves its own and that’s as far as it goes. Blindness to causes that ask for a Christian response, but don’t enhance EM Christian strongholds, runs rampant. In the end, EM Christianity creates an insular community that resists the call of the Lord to go into the highways and byways to find those not initially invited to the party.

We see a practical expression of these negatives in the culture wars waged by American Evangelicalism. Leaders that follow the EM practice of the Faith resort to fear to marshal their followers against perceived threats against the systems and institutions that, in their eyes, represent the Kingdom. You can hear their mantra in the following battlecry:

The {opposition group} is going to destroy {pillar of External Christianity} by {sinful tactic}, which will lead to {fearful outcome}, and the end of {secondary pillar of External Christianity} as we know it!

Creating fear-based “Mad Libs” by filling in those brackets becomes an exercise in identifying EM Christianity:

The homosexual lobby is going to destroy our children by infiltrating our schools with pro-homosexual children’s books, which will lead to sexual identity confusion in our children, and the end of the family as we know it!


The Democrats are going to destroy our legal system by failing to approve conservative judges, which will lead to godless special interest groups running the country, and the end of the United States of America as we know it!

You can go on an on with this formula.

What’s sobering for Christianity is the resemblance of that thinking to the following:

So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

—John 11:47-48

And we know exactly how that ended. The chief priests’ and the Pharisees’ cry sounds very much like the fearful lament of EM Christianity, based as it is in spending all its time and effort in propping up systems and institutions that are secondary (or possibly in opposition) to the expansion of the Kingdom.

Another troublesome issue within EM Christianity concerns its reliance on charismatic leaders to push its agenda forward. When such a leader stumbles, the flock who followed him scatter and the movement loses momentum or falls into public disgrace. We see this all the time and it hurts the cause of Christ in this country immeasurably.

Lastly, those who follow an EM Christianity find themselves subject to the whims of forces having nothing to do with the expansion of the Kingdom of God. Their emotional state shifts with whatever perceived “win” or “loss” follows their cause. Because their faith is so rooted in externalities that can suffer at the hands of the godless, they set themselves up as martyrs even though they may very well lack the proper grounding to be true martyrs for the Faith. Theirs becomes an angry expression of Christianity because of this dilemma.

Yet despite these lacks, EM Christianity is still Christianity. It’s the response of people who have had their eyes opened to the pernicious realities of sin, but have not yet developed an understanding of the Faith that goes beyond labeling others as sinners or saints. EM Christianity is not a seasoned expression of our faith in Christ, but a waypoint on the path to true maturity.

Internally Motivated Christianity, in sharp contrast, invests little time and energy in externalities. Its hope is not in systems and institutions because it understands that those succumb to entropic forces. To the IM Christian, the Kingdom of God cannot rest on externalities prone to decay:

And when [Jesus] was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

—Luke 17:20-21

The distinguishing mark of IM Christianity is the Holy Spirit, who dwells inside each believer. The Kingdom exists because the Spirit comes to live in each believer, that indwelling marking the end of the Old Covenant and the beginning of the New. The externalities, the mere representations of the Kingdom of God, surrender at Pentecost. Therefore, the Kingdom of God cannot be destroyed from without because the Kingdom of God is within us. When attacked, IM Christianity responds with grace and love. It continues to offer Christ to all, even to those who oppose it.

For this reason, IM Christianity signals the mature Faith because nothing can diminish it. Its liberality comes from its freedom to give without fear of loss. IM Christians have considered ALL things lost, receiving in return what cannot be taken away. Though all the systems and institutions collapse and the heathens run amok, IM Christianity remains at peace because its adherents carry within them the fruit of the Kingdom. The Enemy cannot prevail against IM Christianity and cannot sway its adherents because they realize the Kingdom of God lives inside them. The power of God doesn’t come to them from the systems they create, but through the Holy Spirit working miracles in the absence of those systems. They live their faith from the inside out.

IM Christians…

…have humbly died to the externalities.

…don’t concentrate on defending external systems and institutions prone to decay.

…concentrate on the real mission of evangelism and disciple-making.

… comprehend that they are expendable for the Lord because their lives are hidden in Christ.

…work best under persecution.

…have nothing to fear because what they have cannot be taken away from them.

…are truly free.

When we examine the state of the Church in 2007, we find that EM Christianity predominates in the American Church, while IM Christianity marks most regions of the world undergoing revival. IM Christianity thrives in places like China, India, and South America. Those lands have no institutions or systems that support Christianity, anathema to an EM Christian. In fact, institutions and systems in those countries oppose Christianity. This forces the Church there to internalize the Faith. And so it flourishes.

If a warning exists for IM Christianity, it comes in the form of the giant step backward. As noted earlier, EM Christianity exists as a waypoint on the journey to mature faith. However, IM Christianity’s misguided tendency is to retreat by creating systems and institutions that must be defended at all cost. Persecution helps keep this in check, and may explain why the Chinese Church actively prays that the American Church will suffer like it does. When all the systems and institutions fall away, IM Christianity will be forced to take root or people will fall away.

Two Christianities: Externally Motivated and Internally Motivated.

Lord Jesus, make us Internally Motivated Christians.