If you can’t tell from, oh I dunno, all my other posts, I’ve got a serious bone to pick with what I call American Christianity. Understand that I am not referring to all Christians in America, nor am I referring to Christians in a geographical location. A couple of weeks ago, I made an allegorical post giving as succinct a rundown as I could without writing an entire fiction novel about it.1 What I am saying is there exists today a monstrosity that spins itself as something else, and it has been successfully spun for over 300 years.
I have on my “About the Blog” page that I would not turn this thing into some sort of a political rant outlet, and I’m not going to do that. I could because both “sides” are low-hanging fruit ripe for the picking apart, but I’m not going to. I could talk about how none of the people running for president actually believe the things they say, how the entire presidential election is just an American Idol contest without the singing, or how whatever happens in politics is pointless for Christians anyways, but I won’t do that. I do, however, want to briefly look at the two “sides” we have in order to better give perspective for my overall point.
The problem I have with both conservatives and liberals is that there’s just so much inconsistency on both sides; neither side is completely thorough in terms of the theme of their general beliefs. So just to clarify, I’m speaking in generalities here. Liberals want you to think that they are the loving, accepting ones that want to give everyone a fair shot at…well whatever it is that a secular humanist believes will satisfy his life, BUT they push things like abortion and overpowering conservative hate through stronger hate. Conservatives are usually Christian fundamentalists that want to protect the baby’s rights, but basically not anyone else’s and place way too much importance on advocating for capital punishment, a greedy capitalist economy, gun rights, not letting the gays get married and other “American values” (whatever the those are). So the liberals want to give you whatever you want to do whatever you want or be whoever you want IF you can make it out of the womb, and conservatives will help you get out of the womb, but after that either fall in line or you’re on your own.2
I say all of that to illustrate where we are today. I’d love to expound on that except that, well, I really wouldn’t love it. Modern politics are unbelievably drab. So, liberal or conservative reader, I can already see you raising your hand to point at the other side as being the problem, but put your hands down. This is on both of you. This is on all of us.
As is being reflected by the current election cycle the millennial generation is the most polarizing generation in the history of the United States; not only must you pick a side, but you have to go all the way with that side. And this is a WONDERFUL thing for Christianity, but a horrific thing for American Christianity. As the study I posted in a previous post shows, the decreasing number of people who identify with nominal American Christianity displays this generation’s insatiable hunger for truth in both directions. As reformed apologist Dr. Don Carson puts it, this generation of Christians is the first generation in which the majority is tired of being told what Jesus says and is instead saying, “Enough is enough. We want to let Jesus speak for Himself. He doesn’t need you to protect his credibility.”
So as to not run the risk of rambling too much, my overall point is this: it’s time for Christians in America to stop pretending that government, any government, has the potential to be anything but a rebellious deviation of the sovereign rule of God as our King; government headed by human beings cannot be good. 16th century Romanian minister Francis David puts it this way:
There is no greater mindlessness and absurdity than to force conscience and the spirit with external power, when only their creator has authority for them.
The darndest thing about Christian fundamentalism/American Christianity is it took an idea from Ronald Reagan’s ridiculous “Trickle-Down” economic theory and invented something I’ll call Trickle-Down Christianity3. It would have you believe that the best way to “fix”4 the country is by starting at the top of it all, the White House, and essentially trying to force people to change through policy. This is flat-out lunacy. It’s exactly what the Jews were hoping for with God’s promise of the Messiah, which is that God would send them a man to lead them to rule by defeating their Roman captors. I mean seriously, is there not a striking resemblance there?! But what ended up actually happening? A no name carpenter from a no name Jewish town started hanging out with a bunch of people who were poor, widowed, diseased, orphaned, neglected, hungry, homeless, and uneducated which started humanity’s first and only successful peaceful rebellion.
Translation: Jesus LITERALLY started from the bottom. And yet we want to start at the top?!?! Imagine Jesus being interviewed on some silly network like Fox News or CNN:
Liberal/conservative anchor: “So, Jesus, how do we fix ____ problem that the Republicans/Democrats have put us in?”
Jesus: “Well I’d say the best solution would be loving your neighbor as yourself.”
Liberal/conservative anchor: “Well of course that’s what you’d say that, but what does that look like practically?”
Jesus: “Um, perhaps by feeding the incredible amount of homeless people I’ve been seeing around here, caring for the sick, and loving the poor.”
Liberal/conservative anchor: “I don’t think I’m being clear enough here, so let me put it a different way. What can be done in Washington to fix ____ issue that the Republicans/Democrats are clearly responsible for?
Jesus: “Ah, well now that you put it that way…nope, I’d probably have to give the same answer as before.”
I think the root of this widespread misplacement of trust in government comes from this arrogant belief that we as Americans are some sort of special nation in God’s eyes, and that we have been so since 1776. Let’s dispel all this “we’re a Christian nation” nonsense right now: not only is our current system of government not a theocracy, but our system of government has never been a theocracy. Historians on both sides of the “Were the founding fathers Christians?” question could debate each other for the rest of eternity as to whether or not they were Christians, but even if they were, it still wouldn’t have made us a theocracy. The moment a country instills a single person or group of people as the final word as to what they will do, it has rejected the God as its ruler. Don’t believe me? Here’s what God thought of Israel “demanding” a human king to rule over them:
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; and they said to him, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. -1 Samuel 8:4-7
The last godly nation died in 1 Samuel 8. That’s it. Ever since then, there have been/are sinful governments that could/can only do sinful things. Thankfully, God in his all-knowing nature has used governments for his good throughout history, but there is no king, queen, royal ambassador, emperor, governor, mayor, senator, congressman, or president who could possibly create some sort of Christian nation. Leo Tolstoy says it like this:
Government is violence, Christianity is meekness, non-resistance, love. And, therefore, government cannot be Christian, and a man who wishes to be a Christian must not serve government.
Ouch. Let’s break that down:
Assertion #1: Government is violence.
Tolstoy says that the very essence and only possible result of government is violence. There’s an incredibly extensive list of fallen nations that prove that statement. And yes, the United States is firmly on that list5. I mean for God’s sake (literally), the United States has been at war for 93% of its existence. NINETY-THREE PERCENT. That’s 223 out 240 years now that our country has sent humans out to kill other humans for the glory of…well, itself. So yes, government, ESPECIALLY our government, is violence.
Assertion #2: Christianity is meekness, non-resistance, and love.
This is an easy one. It’s an easy one that Christians in this country have missed for 223 out of 240 years, but easy nonetheless. The Beatitudes in Matthew 5, Jesus telling Peter to put down his sword in Matthew 26:52-54, the early church’s response to persecution in Acts 1-8, and countless other scriptures support this.
Conclusion #1: Government cannot be Christian.
This was established earlier. Israel was the last nation to be ruled by God.
Conclusion #2: A man who wishes to be a Christian must not serve government.
This one is a bit stickier. Let’s be clear about what Tolstoy is saying here though. He is not saying that you cannot be a Christian and serve IN or as a member of government. He is also not saying that we should outright disobey or rebel against government as that is not okay to do according to Romans 13. What he is saying is that becoming a Christian means rejecting the king or president as the main/top source of authority in your life. Pledges of allegiance, radical patriotism, and nationalism cannot be things that characterize someone who wholeheartedly declares Yeshua to be the one true King of his or her life. That means ALL aspects of his or her life.
I want to conclude with bringing this back to its original focus, a couple of quotes, and some scripture. As I said in my very first post on this thing, I was once part of this American Christianity, 22 years to be exact. However, it is because I have addressed the board (not seeing Jesus how He is meant to be seen) in my own eye that I can address the speck (Christian fundamentalism/American Christianity) in the eyes of so many in this country. It is time for Christians to pick a side. Am I saying Christians shouldn’t go vote? No way. If that’s your thing, go for it. What I am saying is…well John Piper says it better:
For 350 years, the church on American soil has enjoyed relatively little affliction for her fidelity to the Scriptures. This nation, though, is an anomaly in church history. And those days seem to be passing, more quickly than many of us expected.
But panic would not be a Christian response. For two thousand years, this has been what it has meant to identify with Christ in the world — the normal experience of those who follow a man who was crucified. Suffering for the gospel was not just tolerated in the early church; it was expected.
For now, we may be prone to think it strange. But soon enough, the expectations of American Christians will adjust to what is normal in other times and places. We will realize that when we proclaim a gospel like ours, and make the sort of claims we do, the world won’t receive it well. For Christians, it really is strange not to be persecuted.
And no, taking the Ten Commandments out of the courthouse, removing Bibles from hotels, and secular companies changing up bathroom rules do not qualify as persecution. I’m sorry, but they just don’t. They’re all very foolish things to do, but they are not persecution. People in Middle Eastern or Southeast Asian countries who have had friends and family killed for proclaiming the name of Jesus would call all of these things nothing more than an inconvenience. Which is why I am so thankful that I was born and live in America.
“Yeah Chase, all these words condemning America really make it sound like you just LOVE the red, white, and blue.”
Dr. Stanley Hauerwas perfectly reflects how I feel about being an American6:
I love America and I love being an American. The energy of Americans – their ability to hew out lives often in unforgiving land, their natural generosity – I cherish. But I am a Christian. I cannot avoid the reality that American Christianity has been less than it should have been just to the extent that the church has failed to make clear that America’s god is not the God we worship as Christians.
Prepare for battle, Christian. Ready your sword. No not your gun, put that away and turn that into a gardening tool (Isaiah 2:4 7). But pick a side first.
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. -1 Peter 4:12
Thanks for tuning in.
1I’m actually entertaining the idea of this. Not now of course, but I think a 1984– style fiction book could be written regarding how the United States government has created their own version of Christianity in order to sway the population. Funny how fact can seem more like fiction sometimes.
2Honestly, secular humanists should be the ones who are anti-gun control because and pro-war because, to them, our existence only happened because of a series of random chemical accidents, and this life is the only one you get. If they want to push natural selection and survival of the fittest so hard, they should be doing anything possible to make sure their own is protected. I’ll never understand that.
3Another one I should trademark. As far as I can tell, I don’t think anyone has used it yet.
4Look I hate speaking in generalities, but many times their “fix” means everyone starts to look like they do. As an African theologian once put it, “Christian unity does not mean everyone becomes a white male.”
5I mean seriously, has there ever been a country better at spinning its own war record than ours? There are no true winners in war, but according to the universalist view of winners and losers in war, the United States has never really “won” war that it started.
6His entire article is a brilliant, scathing review of American Protestantism. Here it is. Read if you dare.
7Here’s a group that will literally do this if you send them a gun. Pretty awesome.
My aim is not the establishment of an anarchist society or the total destruction of the state. Here I differ from anarchists. I do not believe that it is possible to destroy the modern state. It is pure imagination to think that some day this power will be overthrown. From a pragmatic standpoint there is no chance of success. Furthermore, I do not believe that anarchist doctrine is the solution to the problem of organization in society and government. I do not think that if anarchism were to succeed we should have a better or more livable society. Hence I am not fighting for the triumph of this doctrine.
- Jacques Ellul,The Ethics of Freedom