Like many, I watched in shock as the events which became a riot and later a declared insurrection. The image that still stands out in my mind is that of the Confederate flag waving in the capitol rotunda. It pained me to see a flag that was America’s enemy in the Civil War waving in democracies modern cradle.
There are many reasons why this occurred but lets focus here on where the church has culpability. That answer lays in these events that have been boiling under the surface for many years. While there is much political and cultural blame to go around, I will speak to the only side of the argument I know very well, religion. Our part of this is something we must own, and that is the American Church is complicit in stoking these fires of anger and hatred.
As a Faith Group, We have Exchanged the Responsibilities of the Gospel for Political Power
As early in our nation’s history as the Civil War, the American Church began to shed its Gospel responsibilities in favor of comfort and power. During the Civil War, many Baptist preachers traveled the country, speaking on slavery being biblical. Did they do this out of love for the scripture and the desire to follow it? No, it was done to consolidate the churches power in the south with the wealthy plantation owners. The church knew it, and the south would likely not survive with the abundance of money that free labor brought. That meant the church would suffer as the members 10% tithes became smaller from having to pay wages to laborers. So, instead of taking on the responsibility of eradicating slavery, as is congruent with the Gospel, they exchanged that hard work for the ease of siding with the wealthy and preaching in favor of slavery.
From this point on, the church seems to become interested in money and political power. If one looks at what the benchmarks are for success for a modern American Christian Church, you will see immediately that the church sees its successes through the lens of money and power rather than the lens of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Pastors are declared successful depending on the number of churchgoers, money in the bank and the beauty of the building they preach in.
Not only is this not a biblically correct thermometer for the temperature of the church, its Anti-Christ. At no point does the Gospel ever command us to chase what the world chases. Yet in America, that is all we have done for the last 50 years. The purpose of the Gospel was to show another way, not reinforce the way of the world. And because the church reinforces the way of money and power, the modern American Christian believes that not only is this acceptable, it IS the Gospel of Jesus. There should be no surprise when the church chases these things. I am no longer shocked when the church leaves the gospel message in the dirt with the poor and broken.
From Money to Political Power
In the 1970’s and 1980’s as televangelists became the hallmark of what pastoring should be in the United States, the incoming money provided these pastors a certain amount of power and prestige. This began a time of wealthy pastors involving themselves in the political happenings of the country. This, in turn, gave way to what we see today in the likes of Joel Osteen and Franklin Graham, wealthy social influencers who claim to be evangelists. What has really happened is that those pastors who have reached megachurch status have begun to convert their wealth into political power.
This type of use erodes the gospel into a gospel of apathy, that does nothing unless wealth or power is going to follow the action. Because of this, the true gospel dies on the vine in the American Church because we feed ego instead of the hungry, we bless SuperPAC’s with funding instead of the poor and we seek approval from Presidents instead of approval from Jesus of Nazareth. What money and power have really done is separate the Gospel from the Church. The gospel of Jesus is so far separated from the church that the church attacks those living out the authentic gospel. We have truly exchanged the truth of God for a lie in the form of another gospel.
The church in the United States is not the first church to exchange the Gospel. The U.S. church has taught a Gospel of power, wealth, and convenience, and has even exported it to other nations. Paul describes a situation in the early church of Galatia where the leadership was beginning to turn to other gospels, in direct violation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! – Galatians 1:6-9
The church in Galatia abandoned the gospel, it was no longer living out the grace of Jesus Christ. The church was turning to more popular and convenient means. Which really meant they were not living out the gospel but living in separation of the gospel. Like now, there were preachers and leaders trying to convince the people that the gospel was about money, power and self. Paul makes it clear that it did not matter who they were or how majestic they were, they were wrong. And those who know the truth of gospel and continue to abuse will be under curse. Those are strong words the church in America really needs to hear.
We Must Be as St. Brendan
As believers, we must be willing to do as St. Brendan, and journey out into the unknown and uncomfortable where the gospel of Jesus meets the broken and hurting world. It is easy to stay on the shoreline of wealth, power and a comfortable seat in a pew. It is much more difficult to journey into the uncomfortable and hurting world. I pray we would be brave enough to embrace the true gospel, even at the cost of friend and amenity. Leaving this broken Americanized gospel on the shoreline to journey to the heart of the Gospel. May we be so brave.
For more info on John, please visit his webpage