Sunday, September 27, 2009

Christianity is just spinach

In his Letter From Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote of American churches,
So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.
Though Dr. king's context was the civil rights struggle, I have to wonder whether the same critique can be made today in other contexts. In many ways Dr. King's critque still does ring true - we are still today archdefenders of the status quo, it's just the the status quo has changed. I don't know of any churches who would support returning to Jim Crow, but I think that in areas other than civil rights we are still "a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound" in many ways.

Most urgently, we are a weak voice in the basic foundation of the Christian Gospel. As one Christian writer observes:
... you could attend church for decades and never here a single examination of whether any propositions required by Christianity are true. There is no logic being taught in the church. There is no linking of Christian doctrine with anything verifiable in the external world.

Children are not stupid. They understand the difference between the way that things are approached in the schools (logically and empirically) and the way that things are approached in the feminized postmodern relativist universalist church (emotions and intuitions). They understand the difference between a physics experiment and a praise hymn. And they know when they are being sold a myth.

The basic problem here is that Christianity has been re-interpreted from being an objective religion based on knowable truth to being a subjective religion based on the felt needs of the subjects in the church pews. The solution to this problem is for the church to treat Christianity as a set of claims about an objective reality. Christianity must be place in the same category as physics and chemistry.

You cannot expect people to be bold in talking about things like sin and Hell when it is no fun to do so. If Christianity is not a knowledge tradition, then it is not worth being any sane person’s time and effort. If Christianity is a personal preference, then it is the same as any other personal preference – it must serve the needs of the person who adopts it.

No one eats spinach, unless they like the taste of spinach. If Christianity is not knowledge, but is just a personal preference, then Christianity is spinach. Some people will like it, and they’ll eat it. But most people won’t like it, and they won’t eat it. ...
The Gospel is dangerous, and therefore must be tamed and put in its place. Its threat to the status quo must be eliminated. And so churches, ably accompanied by their pastors is so many cases (I plead guilty, too) pick up a stool and a whip and set about being the tamer of the Lion of Judah.

I received an email awhile back from Pastor Youngsik Kim of Yerang Mission in South Korea. Yerang is a Christian missionary and aid mission that smuggles Bibles, food and clothing into North Korea. It also helps establish churches in China.

Pastor Kim told man who escaped the Stalinist prison we call North Korea, made it to the South and became a Christian there. He volunteered to work with Yerang Mission and go back to North Korea to establish an underground church. Part of his training regimen was to spend two months at a base camp in China – yes, China – to learn theology and the Bible. The daily training at the base camp takes 10 hours, and for the rest of the day Yerang Mission teaches them how to pray and sing hymns, and information about South Korea.

Did you catch that? Ten hours of intensive religious training per day, then prayer, music and history education.

The North Korean man completed his training, went back to North Korea and established an underground church. “While he was managing an underground church in North Korea, he brought Bibles and Christian books to North Korea,” crossing the border between China and North Korea several times a year.

Then he was caught by Kim Jong Il’s secret police, who tortured him. They promised him he would live if he revealed the names and locations of his fellow missionaries, but he chose to die rather than betray them. As the soldiers led him to be shot in public, he cried out, “Believe in Jesus Christ! Only Jesus is the true God!” until he was executed in the field.

Religion professor Telford Work responded to this story. He said that American Christians have changed the historic meaning of Christian "witness" into something like a protest demonstration. However, he says,
A much more typical image has the Church in the proactive, initiating position, breaking down the gates of hell. The real center of human history is not the state, not the individual, not “The People,” not even history, but Israel-Jesus-Church. It is the other human institutions that are on the defensive, rebelling and passing away and being renewed. And: They. Are. Going. Down.

That's how the faith is supposed to work, and that is how these Koreans are acting. Like their weak Lord, they are strong, for God is with them to humiliate the principalities and powers already defeated at the cross. Yes, evil is real and pervasive and still powerful, as they know better than I. But it is on the run – as long as the Church is really chasing it. And they are in hot pursuit.
Is that what we of the "flaccid western churches," as Work describes us, are doing? I fear not.

Albert Mohler identified one of the main traps American Christians have laid for ourselves - that moralism is the Gospel. But it's not.
[O]ne of the most seductive false gospels is moralism. This false gospel can take many forms and can emerge from any number of political and cultural impulses. Nevertheless, the basic structure of moralism comes down to this -- the belief that the Gospel can be reduced to improvements in behavior.

Sadly, this false gospel is particularly attractive to those who believe themselves to be evangelicals motivated by a biblical impulse. Far too many believers and their churches succumb to the logic of moralism and reduce the Gospel to a message of moral improvement. In other words, we communicate to lost persons the message that what God desires for them and demands of them is to get their lives straight. ...

Add to this the fact that the process of parenting and child rearing tends to inculcate moralism from our earliest years. ...

Writing about his own childhood in rural Georgia, the novelist Ferrol Sams described the deeply-ingrained tradition of being "raised right." As he explained, the child who is "raised right" pleases his parents and other adults by adhering to moral conventions and social etiquette. A young person who is "raised right" emerges as an adult who obeys the laws, respects his neighbors, gives at least lip service to religious expectations, and stays away from scandal. The point is clear -- this is what parents expect, the culture affirms, and many churches celebrate. But our communities are filled with people who have been "raised right" but are headed for hell.
Christianity as we practice it is doing terrible things to our children. When all is said and done, most children reach their high school graduation thinking that God has put them on earth to be good boys and girls. They may have some growing pains, some difficulties now and then, but if they listen closely and go to Sunday School they may, just may, have a chance at becoming . . . a nice person.

Is that what Jesus died to do?

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