Because of continued interest in my analysis of trends in the Christian church, I have set aside a separate website for managing that perspective. The new website is called, appropriately, “The Death of Christianity.” Or, www.deathofchristianity.com. Today’s post addresses the topic of a presentation that I will be delivering at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Macomb, Mi, on Wednesday, Oct. 21st. The topic is: “Five Things that are Killing Christianity.”
What follows is an overview and should not be construed as my definitive statement on the subject and deals only with number one on the list.
The number one thing killing Christianity in America today:
All the rest of the things on the list tie back to this. The Christian Church exhibits constant lovelessness in much of what it does. Many readers will jump to the idea that Christians are very loving, and to an extent, I agree. Many readers will find the assertion nauseous because they think of ‘love’ as some wishy washy sentiment. Both sets of readers misunderstand me.
One of my contentions is that Love itself is misunderstood, because unlike other doctrines, this one has not been systematically explored from the Scriptures. We all act as though we intuitively know what ‘love’ is. In fact, we have culturally driven notions that are derived from hundreds of years of romanticism. The Bible- the New Testament in particular- portrays a love that is much different. It is earth shattering, and embodied in the activities of the early Christian Church.
Our ignorance of what Biblical love is all about, and our failure to demonstrate it consistently, lies at the bottom of all the reasons why the Church is in decline in America today.
The basic formula is found in 1 John 3:16. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”
Loving your brother… even to the death… is earth shattering and supernatural, and is what we are called to do. The early Church did love that way, and they changed the world. We’ve been living off this ‘borrowed capital’ for more than a thousand years. Circumstances today are causing that ‘capital’ to dry up faster and faster.
We are immersed in a fundamental confusion. The Church at large thinks that what we’re about is ‘loving God.’ We have our sanctuaries, and praise services, and liturgies, etc, etc, as a response to God’s love. People love to hold their hands up and sway with the tunes or leave the service with the reverent solemn assurance that their sins are forgiven… and we act as though this is all the appropriate way to participate in or respond to God’s love. But it isn’t.
I’m not making this up. It isn’t like we have no direction from the Scriptures. Jesus said,
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are your disciples, if you love one another. John 13:34-35
The world will know that we are Jesus’ disciples by how we love each other. And you thought it was by the erection of huge church buildings!
In short, if you love God, the response he commands is that we love each other. It isn’t “You will go to church regularly.” It isn’t, “You will vote Republican.” It isn’t, “You will advocate for universal health care even if it means sticking it to the rich.” It isn’t, “You revel in the awesome fact that you are saved from your sins.” These things may be involved, but these are not what has been commanded.
The general attitude is that in response for what God has done for us, we will feel a certain way, and because of that feeling we will try to give back to him praise. This is like Bill Gate’s kid putting a 20 in his father’s ‘Happy Birthday’ card. Bill Gates doesn’t need the money, just like God doesn’t need the praise. Or anything else, for that matter. God knows this (and so does Bill Gates, probably) which is why this is not what is given to us as our response. What we can do, however, is show our appreciation for what God has done for us by reaching out to others.
As John said in his first epistle,
“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” 1 John 4:19-21
Despite this extremely clear, explicit, and pervasive theme in the Scriptures, we still act as though we can please God by telling him, one way or another, how cool he is.
Because of this disconnect, strangers brush up against each other every Sunday. People in need interact with people with plenty, and neither is the wiser. Fellow Christians pass each other like ships in the night, despite the fact that they very well could minister to each other- and thus show the world that they love Jesus- and instead have only to show for it the fact that they had a shared experience.
It is no wonder that Christianity is in decline in America: the one thing given to Christians to authenticate to the world the validity of their message, love for one another, is redirected to God.
None of this should be construed (though it will be, to my chagrin) as a repudiation of all the things we currently do to ‘show’ we love God. It isn’t. If we were doing those things AND loving our fellow Christians… to the death… there would be no problem.
But, I contend, we aren’t doing that. God tells us that if we love him, we’ll love the brothers. We have it stuck in our head that if we love him, we’ll love him.
But that’s not what he said, and that is why outsiders, ultimately, do not find Christianity credible. Indeed, it is why Christians themselves are dubious, and in fact, sometimes falling away altogether.
To be continued.