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The American Evangelical Church Confronts Hostility

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There was no moral cleavage between church and state. With few exceptions, the state upheld the church’s definition of sin and punished its occurence with criminal and civil sanctions; and that held true most especially for divorce, abortion, homosexuality, and suicide.

ScreenShot20141022at101425AMOver the last forty years, however, that ethical consensus has passed into oblivion. It’s gone the way of the woolly mammoth and the dodo bird. Moral relativism now reigns supreme, leaving the church more often than not at odds with the state - and frequently bringing the two into open conflict. More and more Christians are drawing the conclusion that an actual condition of hostility now characterizes the relationship between church and state here in America.

Some Christian leaders have sought to ameliorate that hostility by playing down the church’s historic emphasis on sin, divine justice, and God’s wrath. Brian McLaren, for example, a bright light within the “emergent church” movement, has shied away from calling homosexuality a sin - to the point that he actually presided at his own son’s same sex wedding.

Tony Jones, another emergent leader recently affirmed, “I now believe that GLBTQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and queer) persons can live in accord with biblical Christianity (at least as much as any of us can!).”

But if sin is played down, where’s the need for a savior? No sin, no savior! It’s that simple - and McLaren and Jones - both of whom claim to be evangelical Christians - know that. They’ve therefore reinterpreted Jesus - both his person and his mission. The Christian message is no longer cast in the guise of “sinners in need of a savior;” but instead “seekers looking for a guide - a companion - to help them down the road leading to self-fulfillment.” They tell us that it’s an heroic adventure - one that requires great courage to pursue - but one that’s filled with mystery and wonder and is well worth the effort.

ScreenShot20141022at102145AMBut on a deeper level - and here I’m giving them no benefit of the doubt - what they’re really after is far less heroic: they want desperately to fit in with a secular culture now at war with Christians who still hold to a faith that casts humans in the guise of condemned sinners. A faith that, moreover, makes no bones about many of the specific sins that call for that condemnation - including the very sins the secular culture here in America now not only condones, but actually approves; e.g., homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion, euthanasia, etc. McLaren and Jones know that clinging to that faith will engender not just ridicule, but outright animosity. And they’re unwilling to put themselves in that kind of jeopardy. And that’s the real truth!

Weak and enfeebled

Four hundred years in a sheltered hot house! Protected from the scorn and outright persecution that Christians face in so many other parts of the world - especially in the southern hemisphere - and most especially in Africa! The result: the emergent church replete with all its compromises.

Certainly, however, most evangelical churches are not “emergent.” Still ...

  • the same penchant for playing down the significance of sin is at work in far too many of our churches;
  • the same bent toward preaching a gospel message that soft-peddles the theme of “sinners in need of a savior,” and, instead, plays up the theme of “seekers looking for personal fulfillment;”
  • the same tendency to avoid calling out for condemnation the very sins apt to elicit the most hostility from our secular culture - especially, homosexuality, same sex marriage, and abortion.

It’s all too easy to forget that the mercy, grace, and love of God can only be grasped against the foil of God’s wrath.

ScreenShot20141022at102656AMThe vast difference between the faith so characteristic of Christians facing daily hostility and Christians who have been protected from hostility is reflected in a letter sent by an African bishop to the head of the Episcopal Church, USA. The American church had promised the African prelate financial aid if he could overcome his aversion to the ordination of Gene Robinson, a practicing homosexual, to a bishopric in New England. Dr. Nkoyoyo, the African prelate, replied ...

“The gospel of Jesus Christ is not for sale, even among the poorest of us who have no money. Eternal life, obedience to Jesus Christ, and conforming to his Word are more important. The Word of God is clear that you have chosen a course ... that leads to spiritual destruction. Because we love you, we cannot let that go unanswered ... As a result, any delegation you send cannot be welcomed, received, or seated. Neither can we share fellowship nor even receive (the) desperately needed resources (you’ve offered). If, however, you repent and return to the Lord, it would be an occasion of great joy.”

The power, authority, and majesty of the gospel message is revealed in Dr. Nkoyoyo’s reply. Against that backdrop, McLaren and Jone’s compromises seem woeful and pathetic.

The peace bubble has burst here in America. Christians can no longer expect a sympathetic secular culture to guard them from animosity. We are facing an ever more pervasive and threatening hostility. And the temptation to downplay whatever in the gospel message elicits that hostility is even now splitting the church - including the evangelical church. Are we ready for it? The prophetic scriptures are very clear: it’s unavoidable.

 

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