In the USA
By Jerry Smith
The SeriesChristian Culture in the USA
Christian Culture in the Philippines
One observation I think we can all agree on is that in recent years there has arisen more open hostility toward Christians in the U.S.A. I recently watched a documentary on the 1986 space shuttle Challenger disaster and observed then-President Reagan's eulogy for the fallen astronauts which included clear references to God. My family and I routinely watch reruns of Little House on the Prairie (a secular TV series from the 70s and early 80s, for our younger readers) where they sing hymns and even speak openly of Jesus Christ. Yet, these days, we know this would be met with open criticism if not direct hostility. How did we get from there to here? I believe we as Christians have become distracted and complacent with modern life, failing to bring our families up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We also have taken religion to the extreme while failing to abide in Christ.
Frankly, I do not see this phenomenon of hostility toward Christians solely a fulfillment of Jesus' words in John 15:18-21. We know from Paul that those who would live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). However, have we been living godly lives as American Christians in the biblical sense? Sure, we know how to dot the i's and cross the t's but have we been living the heart of Christianity? Quite possibly, the hostility American Christians face today is a repercussion of our failure to abide in Christ (John 15:4), failure to adhere to the teaching of Christ, failure to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16), failure to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), failure to stay in the Word (John 8:31), and surely a failure to rightly interpret the Word (2 Timothy 2:15).
The open hostility toward the Christians in Roman times exemplified pure Christianity. These Christians' lives were so different than their pagan Roman counterparts in word, in deed, in attitude, and behaviors. They would not share their wives unlike the common practice of the day. They did not participate in the sexual practices of the day. Women were respected instead of treated as having no rights. Imperfect babies were not left outside to die, as was the practice of the Romans, but were rather recovered by them. These early Christians were also known for their compassion on the sick. Slaves were loved and even sat at the table to eat with families. The early Christians spoke graciously, demonstrated humility, and loved one another. Their very lives were a testimony to the saving, renewing, and sanctifying power of Jesus Christ. The Romans were hostile toward them because these early Christians lived their lives in stark contrast to the prevailing beliefs of the culture of that day. But at the same time, these early Christians won many Romans to Christ by the contrast of their lives.
The U.S. brand of Christianity is very much like our American thinking: independence. This means American-minded Christians do not seem to place an emphasis on abiding in Christ. We seem to want to march off to battle without the power of the True Vine. We tend to walk more by sight than by faith. We rally, have massive gatherings promoting Christian values, and build large congregations that are manipulated by motivating words, music, or emotions to promote Christian values and make disciples. We have steps to forgiveness, steps to a better prayer life, steps to enjoying God, steps to evangelizing, and on it can go. We have Christian bookstores, Christian theme parks, Christian groups, and the like. We perform acts in the name of Christianity rather than walking in the power of Christ. Sadly, as American culture has proliferated throughout the world, so too has American Christian culture. This brand of Christianity turns people off who would not have been turned off had the Christian witness been the one Jesus taught and exampled for us. I have seen it time and again living in Southeast Asia. The witness Paul lived and expounded upon in his epistles. The example that early Christians lived.
One of my latest experiences was a young Chinese man who was quite angered at a post I made on my Google Plus account sharing a book that examined Jesus Christ through the microscope of Isaiah 53. He said, "We do not need your Jesus here in China," and a little more. It was clear that he'd had a bad experience with or had witnessed aggressive Christianity in action by Western missionaries. Another recent experience was receiving an email from a brother in India to pray for him because anti-Christian laws were being passed there that were meant to stop Christians from being "overly aggressive" in their witnessing. These examples and others lead me to conclude that Western Christianity and modern-day Christianity are falling short of abiding in Christ, falling short of what Christ exampled for us and taught us.
American Christians do not appear to be operating in the Spirit of Christ when they protest and lash out at the world (and at each other) regarding issues such as Creation versus Evolution, Bible versions, homosexuality, female pastors, and the like. But, where is that gentleness that Christ demonstrated (2 Corinthians 10:1), that fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), that humility (James 4:10), that meekness in teaching " God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth," (2 Timothy 2:25)? Where is that gracious speech of Colossians 4:6 from believers today? The proverb tells us "a soft answer turns away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger" (Proverbs 15:1). James echoes the same when he wrote that "the wrath of man works not the righteousness of God" (James 1:20), and "how great a fire a tongue can kindle" (James 3:5). Are we simply ignoring the Word of God and replacing it with everyone doing what is right in their own eyes?
We as Western (American) Christians have perhaps brought much of this hostility upon ourselves by failing to take responsibility for personal study of the Word of God. We are commanded to personal and individual study in 2 Timothy 2:15 for three reasons: (1) to show ourselves approved of God, (2) to avoid shame, and (3) to rightly divide the word of truth. We have study bibles and devotionals, concordances and references, journals papers and academic courses, but where is the Christianity? Are we learning more about the Bible or are we seeking God? It appears that Christians are increasingly leaving the study of God's Word to scholars and trusting the scholars' words rather than searching the Bible for themselves as the Bereans were commended for in Acts 17:11.
I believe this failure of everyday Christians to get into the Word of God has led to serious repercussions in the U.S.A. as religious pluralism, moral relativism, and heated debates regarding Creation and Evolution. The collateral damage of our failures has been the very fields which the Lord once said are white for harvest (John 4:35). Our crops are being damaged by our failures. "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" the Lord says in Hosea 4:6 and continues the verse with even stronger words. Jeremiah 3:15 speaks of pastors who are supposed to be feeding the flock of God with "knowledge and understanding," but apparently this is not the case as I can observe both in the U.S. and here in the Philippines. The sheep bleat from hunger and a dearth of the Word of God from pulpits while being sore and wounded from beatings from the pulpits by the same Word of God. We are pushed to do more: more ministry, more converts, more work, etc. without spiritual food. We have caused our neighbors to dislike us because we promote our religion but do not live it. It's easy to see why hostility would arise in our neighbors from such hypocrisy. People just want sincerity not promotion, not beating over the head, not insults or direct attacks against them and their beliefs. They want to see Christians actually being Christians instead of Christians being religious zealots.
Image Credit: Amber Case; "Lakewood Mega Church"; Creative Commons
Tags: Biblical-Truth | Christian-Life | Controversial-Issues | Current-Issues | Jesus-Christ | Sin-Evil
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Published on 6-5-17