Someone once said, “What began as a movement in Jerusalem became a philosophy in Greece, a monument in Rome, a culture in Europe, and an enterprise in America.” How true! From country to country and kingdom to kingdom, the church has often taken on the culture of the surrounding society, becoming conformed to the image of the world rather than calling the world to become conformed to the image of God.
And so it is here in America. We know how to make everything Christian, and we know how to sell it.
We know how to produce a bigger and better Christianity (that’s the American way!).
We know how to tailor make the gospel to suit the sinner rather than calling the sinner to die to self and follow Jesus. (Put another way, we know how to build up the sinner’s ego rather than call the sinner to repent.)
In short, we have learned how to merchandize Jesus and market the gospel, promising a better life – including financial prosperity, physical health, and loads of popularity – to all who will respond quickly, as long as this special offer lasts.
As a result, we have cheapened the gospel, we have demeaned our Lord, we have misled the world, and we have lost our distinctives. Who needs a “gospel” like this?
When it comes to politics, we have often become appendages to political parties (different groups of Christians have done this both with Democrats and Republicans), putting our hope in political solutions more than gospel solutions and giving more energy to winning elections than to winning the lost. And, when we have been entrusted with political power on the highest levels, we have often forgotten our call to serve and love all, enjoying our moment in the sun.
I have had the privilege of traveling to India twenty-seven times since 1993, missing my trips the last two years because of COVID but otherwise, visiting there every year to serve the Christian believers.
On my first trip there, joined by my wife Nancy and some of our close friends, we were introduced to about seventy-five orphans who lived in two small rented homes, one for boys and the other for girls. They slept on the floor, and each had one set of clothes. But they were fed three meals a day and were getting a solid education as well as robust spiritual grounding.
When we saw these precious kids, the first thought we had was adoption. Why don’t we adopt one of these precious children and bring them to America where they can live in relative luxury and enjoy the many benefits our country has to offer?
We quickly concluded that this would be the worst thing we could do for them, since, in India, these kids were being raised without TV and movies, without peer pressure and obsession with the latest fashion, without our cultural narcissism and our many addictions to entertainment and technology and sports. And that’s why they were so amazingly content and even happy.
They were being loved and cared for. They were being raised in a beautiful Christian environment. They were learning the most important of Christian values. And they were getting a good education that would prepare them for a blessed future.
That being said, I am truly and deeply thankful for the amazing blessings we do have here in America, and I’m glad our daughters could sleep on comfortable beds living at home with their mom and dad. At the same time, I realize that living here in our great country can also be challenging, as we have our unique set of minefields to navigate.
Can we enjoy prosperity while maintaining the same level of commitment as our persecuted brothers and sisters? Can we live with plenty while walking in discipline and self-denial?
Can we be part of the dominant political power while still being servants of all? Can we be active politically without losing sight of our higher calling, namely, to know Jesus and make Him known?
Can we be in this world without being of this world, living as loyal citizens of an earthly kingdom without losing the perspective that, first and foremost, we are citizens of a heavenly kingdom? Can we show solidarity with good political leaders without compromising our morality or spirituality?
In short, can we be better known for our spiritual affiliation than for our political affiliation, for our devotion to Jesus than our vote for a candidate? Can we live just the same under Caesar as under Constantine? Can we emulate that third way – not the American way and not the way of other religions and cultures, but the gospel way – while remaining fully engaged in the country we call home here on earth, namely the United States of America?
It is a challenging task, but it must be done. Do we really have any other choice?