The Biblical Gospel is the Only Cure for Idyllic ChristianitySunday, September 14, 2008
There's this pesky problem I've noticed in my own life....
It is One that God has graciously shown me through the lives and struggles of others. It's that pesky notion that seems to pop up its ugly head in almost every Christian circle with which I've interacted, as well as ever church I've either attended or pastored. Here's what it looks like.
The Ideal of Calvinistic Christianity
Johnny Christian believes that Calvinism is the end-all-be-all of Christianity. Ever since he discovered it, he claims it feels like being born again...again. The sovereignty of God through the predestination and election of the saints is the ideal cornerstone of biblical theology, and as such it is very empowering to him. His views on evangelism change, and he finds himself at odds, and more often than not, critical with the way things are going in local churches today. His confusion about the contradiction in theology creates an irritation about bad theology, and so he often feels compelled to let people know what he thinks and how he feels. As a result, Johnny is often sidelined at the church where he attends. His Calvinism leads him to other preachers on YouTube who sound like the sweet song of salvation to his ears. The more he listens, the more he grows dissatisfied with the preaching of his own pastor. Suddenly, one day while he is out and about, he finds others who talk about the same stuff he does...Calvinism! He immediately falls in love with them, hangs out with them, and ultimately finds himself leaving his church in a huff because they do not measure up to his ideal version of Calvinistic Christianity.
The Ideal of Homeschooled Christianity
Susie Christianette believes that homeschooling is the sweet by-and-by of the Christian family. She has concluded that the Bible clearly and indisputably teaches that God's way of educating children is only in the home, and no where else. The public schools have kicked God and prayer out of their view, and now these schools only exist to serve the needs of the government which is ultimately the plan of Satan. All along, God has planned since the OT for children to be trained and educated by parents at home, and never in the care of others. Susie reads ideas like these in homeschool books, magazine, articles, and blogs. Eventually she comes to embrace it fully and finds herself involved with other women in the community who believe the same thing. She gets involved in a co-op and ultimately feels the need to tell her husband that transferring to another church with more homeschool-friendly families is going to be the most ideal way to raise their family. So they switch churches and settle into what they feel is their ideal.
The Ideal of Patriarchal Christianity
Billy-Bob Christian believes that patriarchal Christianity is the only biblical way of Christian fathering and parenting. Through his desire to be a godly husband and father, he concludes that the ideal way to raise his family is to have his own farmland where he raises his own meat and vegetables, where he works little outside the home, and where he and he alone is solely responsible for the spiritual well-being and religious education of his children. As he slowly and more deeply forms his convictions, he feels that he must pull his children from their respective ministries at his local church, and he believes it better for them to sit with him through adult Sunday School and public worship service. Later (or sooner) he feels that removing them from the influence of public school and the world is better, so he brings them home for his wife Susie to homeschool them. Eventually, the lifestyle becomes so important that he feels compelled to find others who share his convictions. Happily he locates such a person who attends a homechurch who share his convictions. Through conversations and visits at this homechurch, Billy-Bob finally concludes that the most ideal situation for his family is in that setting where others share his convictions and he shares theirs. Billy-Bob finally settles in to his ideal picture of Christianity.
The Ideal of Organic-Food Christianity
Janie Christianette believes that eating organic foods is the most god-glorifying way of eating and feeding her family. Having concluded from her reading of God's Word that the things we eat today are not healthy for us, she envisions a home where her husband and children eat all organic meats and vegetables, homemade bread, and purified water. She reads blogs and books and eventually finds other women who believe the way she does. This leads to much time being spent together talking about their ideals and visions for how things ought to be in this area. When they get together at church on Sundays, they talk to others in such a way that some Christians feel bad or guilty that they are not eating like organic Christians. Some are busy moms with full time jobs who count their blessings just to get something hot on the table at dinner time, much less to have a hot, steaming fresh loaf of homemade Ezekiel bread with hand-churned organic butter made from free-range cows' milk. Soon, there is a division among the women, and those whose schedules do not permit eating organically feel a weight of guilt that they are not properly caring for their family in a way that supposedly honors God.
The Ideal of Authorized Version Christianity
Jimmy Christian believes that the 1611 Authorized Version of the King James Holy Bible is the only correct version that any Christian should be using. He knows this because his pastor has told him this, and because he's read critical commentary and books on all the other versions which have polluted and adulterated God's holy Word. Believing that this is the most ideal version of Christianity - one that is centered around the real Jesus Christ - he finds a growing irritation and eventual hatred for all other versions of Christianity which dilute the real thing with Bible versions that don't really teach truth. His knowledge that most churches don't use the right version makes him grow angry toward those churches. As a result, Jimmy eventually finds himself at odds with just about every other Christian he comes into contact with. His only solace is his own little local church which is independent from the world and fundamental to the core, faithful, in his mind, to the real kingdom of God.
The Ideal of House Church Christianity
Alvin and Amy Christian are a couple who have become discontented with organizational church. They feel stressed out all the time by the activities they feel like they have to attend to at their local church. The real purpose of their local church seems to be strangely absent: evangelism and missions. Choir, children's ministries, ladies' ministries, softball games, and teaching sunday school have them so busy that they hardly feel connected to God any longer. This discontent points them to look for other solutions, and all of the sudden they meet a friend of a friend who believes home church is the most biblical way to do church today. Intrigued by this concept, Alvin and Amy visit a couple of times and eventually begin to embrace this idealistic version of Christianity for themselves and their children. They eventually leave their church and join their family to a home church and settle into what they feel is the most ideal version of Christianity.
What are the Common Denominators in all These Christians?
Think for a moment through the various Christians and their stories recounted above. I'm sure you know at least one of them. As you think through all of their situations, what things are there that are common to all of their stories?
1. They all had an ideal version of Christianity. Their version of Christianity became an idea, concept, and abstract reality which they allowed to develop in their hearts and minds, ultimately informing them about what "real" Christianity is all about.
2. Their ideal version of Christianity was formulated in their own heads without a thorough exegesis of the Scriptures guarded by the communal, more mature voices of Christianity. Most of the time, they read a book or series of articles or worse yet, blogs that resonate with them in some way (usually because of their personality or bent). Rather than read books and articles written to the opposite direction to challenge their thinking and ensure a more critical thinking process was driving the progress, they only read what they like, and what sounds good to them, supporting their preconceived ideal. What is worse, the Bible is used by the authors of these articles, blogs or books to, of course, argue the point they were trying to make. Thus, for the Christians above, the Bible seemed to argue for their ideal.
3. This ideal led them to become dissatisfied with their own local church and lot in life. Their pastor or church leaders weren't saying or preaching the things they wanted to hear, the things they felt were the most important in their lives at that time. This created a discontentment and dissatisfaction with where they were at, and began to give root to a desire to find something else that they believed was more suitable to their ideals.
4. Their ideal led them to find others whom they thought shared the same ideals. Misery loves company. If you wait long enough, you'll always find someone out there to agree with you. And all of these Christians did just that. This led to a fellowship and friendship forming around these ideals.
5. Finally their ideal leads them to leave their local church, often in frustration, irritation, and confusion...and often with a wake behind them. This is followed, of course, by a joining of another group of people or another local church which shares their ideals.
6. The most common denominator in all of these is summed up in the word pride. Unchecked, the human heart will manufacture more pride in one day than all the world's oil refineries combined can manufacture gasoline. This same heart will set up an idyllic vision of something, intentionally block out all other voices, and pursue that ideal so fastidiously that those who don't agree are simply seen as in the way, immature Christians, or flat out ungodly altogether.
So what's the problem?
I believe that ultimately it is idolatry swapped for the biblical gospel. Jesus Christ and Him crucified has been relegated to a position of starting point rather than starting, running, and finishing point. He gets them saved, but then leaves them to find what they believe is the most ideal version of Christianity for them and their families. In reality, this ideal is really an idol, for it is something they pursue far more passionately than the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus all of the sudden got traded for calvinism, a King James Bible, organic food, homeschooling, home church, and patriarchalism.
This is really nothing more than a fruit of postmodernism, where the truth, data, and facts of Scripture have to first be measured against our personality and bent and likes and dislikes about our current place Christianity before we put them into play. The truth of the gospel is filtered through the idol of each Christian's ideal version of Christianity, and out comes a convoluted gospel which strangely attracts others who share those same ideals. Funny how many of these movements as listed above were began in an attempt to become separate from the world...yet look how influenced they are by our postmodern society!
How smart is the devil in all this?
Isn't this amazingly subtle and cunning? He uses the gospel and Christianity to separate Christians from one another so that they will divorce themselves from other groups of Christians in order to maintain their ideal version of holiness and godliness. Sectarianism is then born, as Christians, one by one, group by group, and church by church, begin raising and flying their individual flags of ideal Christianity. Local churches are formed, blogs are written, commercials and t.v. spots are purchased, books are written, and yadayadayada....split after split after split occurs in the kingdom of God. Denominations, large and small, are born over stuff like this. Christian families are split over stuff like this! But doesn't all this stuff matter? NO! It really doesn't.
Here's what really matters...
What matters most is the message Jesus thought mattered most, and it was this: that man needed to be made right with God before God comes to judge the world. And the only way to be made right with God is through a righteousness that is opposite our self-righteousness That kind of of righteousness belongs to God who is, however, willing to credit it to us who don't deserve it. Meanwhile, our self-righteousness and the punishment it so richly deserves was credited to Jesus Christ who didn't deserve any of it. On the cross, Jesus suffered the unmitigated wrath of God to the last drop, so that those who desire to repent and live a life of faith following Jesus will be found in His group and therefore recipients of God's eternal blessings rather than eternal wrath.
This is called the gospel. And real Christians live a life believing, trusting, studying, meditating, giving, living, and serving by this gospel instead of some other idolatrous/idyllic version of Christianity which actually replaces Christ.
I'm convinced that most, though not all, denominations and sects within Christianity have been formed because of this very thing. Satan knows that if He can section off Christianity into smaller splinters we will be able to do far less damage to his kingdom. The larger team is split into smaller groups that cannot possibly be as effective as the larger team. But he has been able to accomplish this in one and only one way: by obscuring the message of the gospel so that our eyes are no longer on the message stated above, but on some other thing that we think must somehow necessarily be connected to the message when it is actually not!
Jesus prayed in John 17 that Christians would be one, just as He and the Father were one. That's pretty close unity, I'd say. That's inseparable unity. But the purpose of Jesus prayer was specific. It wasn't so that we'd all believe the same thing. That's a given if we are His people. Yet strangely that's the part where so many "Christians" fall off the bandwagon. They falsely believe that the purpose of their being saved is to find other people who believe like they do and hang out together...all the time.
No, Jesus' prayer had a specific purpose in mind about our unity. And I call it functional unity. It is a unity that functions to a specific end. "so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (John 17:23). The function of gospel-driven unity among Christians is world-evangelization. But the world is getting a picture of Christianity today that is convoluted. They think we are all about our different ideals. They see Christianity in the various forms it has taken on above. They don't see the kind of unity Jesus prayed for here in John 17. If they did, then I have to think they'd be more likely to believe what Jesus said He wanted them to believe in verse 23.
If churches believed the biblical gospel and believed it rightly, we would all be an answer to Jesus' prayer. (And lest you Calvinists think I'm implying that His sovereign prayer isn't being answered, think again.) This is something we must strive for. It is not too prideful or arrogant to say that a biblical theology of man's responsibility necessitates that we work our bums off to be that answer to Jesus' prayer. If we don't, then I'm not sure we really care so much about the lost world as we say we do.
Dear God, help us repent from our sectarianism and idolatry which hinders the very answer to your prayer, Jesus. Forgive us for worshiping at the altar of a functional savior which we look to rescue us from our troubles and confusion in our local churches. May we turn from these worthless "ideal" saviors, and look to You, King Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. Selah. Amen.