July 29, 2008 Matthew

Introduction – What is American Christianity?

What is “American Christianity”? A divine plan of our age? A strong bastion of refuge and strength? A wayward prostitute? A lost cause? Maybe a little bit of everything?

The Church of America does have a  purpose. It is just as ordained by heaven as the Church in any other nation or people group. American Christianity as a label defines a broad spectrum of things. I treat it as the spiritual undercurrent of the Christian community in America and far from anything formal or official. Neither is it limited to the political confines of the U.S.A., but in fact reflects a world of Christianity in which America seems to be at the epicenter.

So far, as American power cannot be circumvented on this earth, neither can this “American Christianity”. Despite the fact that American Christians only occupy a tiny slice of the world’s Christian population (perhaps only 5%), the power and force of it is truly impressive. It is everywhere, it is huge, and it is powerful. Even now as the American Christian community is in decline and the center of Christian missions is shifting to other nations, the effects remain deep and widespread.

Fallen Over

In ten years of traveling and working around the world I have noticed that the American Church seems to endure more ridicule than any other national church. This seems to be our main form of persecution. This may come as a surprise to you or it may not. If you are aware of scriptures such as Psalm 79:4,

“We have become a taunt to our neighbors, mocked and derided by those around us.”

or Lamentations 1:7,

“Jerusalem remembers in the days of her affliction and wandering all the precious things that were hers from days of old. When her people fell into the hand of the foe, and there was none to help her, her foes gloated over her; they mocked at her downfall.”

then you might have an idea of where the American Church stands at this point in time.

Our days are surely not like the days of old—when the church was a fearsome place according to Acts 5:12,

“None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem.”

Somewhere along the line the power and boldness of the Church was lost, and today the Church is so ridiculed that it has nearly become an enterprise. Gloated over day after day, it’s almost impossible to miss: cartoons, advertisements, souvenirs, TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, tabloids, movies, comics, posters, bumper stickers, news reports, and the list goes on and on. It is an enormous amount of gloat for any religion. But it doesn’t stop there; the Church even finds itself gloated over from within. I can attest that have heard it in the mission field, in local churches, in Bible colleges, and even in the ranks of leadership. It is difficult to find such a lack of honor and respect in other religions. Nevertheless, we should never be dismayed at this. For, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

The pierce of all this comes when we understand one of the main reasons why the Church is so mocked. “Jerusalem sinned grievously,” says Jeremiah in Lamentations 1:8, “therefore she became filthy; all who honored her despise her, for they have seen her nakedness; she herself groans and turns her face away.” I think this old tale of Jerusalem’s exile prophetically speaks a truth for us today.

In the previous verse Jeremiah notes, “…her foes gloated over her; they mocked at her downfall.”

We could easily quote a multitude of preachers this last century prophetically calling out to the Church that she has fallen over. I remember once hearing J. Vernon McGee saying over the radio that he could quote a hundred himself. It is no mystery anymore that she has fallen into a wallowing state. So is it any wonder that the once majestic bride—who made her entrance into the world by fearsome power and beauty so that historians who wrote about the early church were amazed at her—is now exceedingly mocked as she is counted as a naked left-over and a “has-been”? How could you not mock at such a sight? How lonely sits the city that was once full of people. Distressed, mourning, weeping, mocked, widowed.

But there is still hope! The downfall is the sin and if a corporate repentance for the sinfulness were to take place, then and only then as one of our most beloved verses declare, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Let us consider Daniel’s example as he and his people were in exile: “O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.”

Maybe you like America, maybe you don’t. It has its delightful sides and its dark sides. Regardless, Jesus came not to condemn or judge and we need to be like him. There is a lot to love about America and its Church. There are also things to be grieved about. But it is not for us to judge, but only to exhort and encourage. The Holy Spirit teaches us to be impartial toward people, and therefore we need to love all people the same. My culture and race is no better than any other and vice versa. Let us stand firm upon the Solid Rock which cannot be shaken. All nations in this world including America, can, and will be shaken.

For those of us who have picked up the cross-bound course after our predecessors we must make a choice as to how we will continue in it. Some have chosen the choking cares of the world, some have chosen to live for themselves, and some have chosen to compromise everything. But who will choose to endure to the end? Who will find the strength to? May our eyes not be stuck on the worries or short-comings of the country and the church which we are a part of. After all, there is nothing new under the sun—what happens here has happened before in other civilizations.

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