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Who is corrupting whom?
Faith is under attack by the world, and therefore the world, to Christians, is corrupting. But is that really true?
Two books that I’ve consumed in the last year (by audiobook) have deeply challenged some of my assumptions about the current state of Christianity in the world, how the body of Christ got to this point, and where it will lead us. The first book is “Jesus and John Wayne” by Kristin du Mez, and the second is “Surrender” by Bono. These books—both by believers in Christ—critically examine the American, protestant, conservative church and its obsessions with outside corruption.
I’ve also watched the slow progression of David French, who at one time served as a youth pastor in the denomination with which I am affiliated, from a fierce defender of Christian conscience in the public square to a leading critic of the new popular move toward what he sees as confirmation that Christian conservatives as “dominionists in disguise.” What I do know is that many Christians see the open movement in the non-Christian world toward hedonism, rules specifically designed to scourge the conscience of believers, and feel a sense of threat, a force-feeding of a corrupted world that hates Christ.
Du Mez’s “Jesus and John Wayne” narrative is that a general movement toward a patriarchal, authority-based family and church, mixed with a fragmenting of the authority of denominations, ordinations, and study, into a marketing economy of faith, produced many fads that morphed into a hyper-masculine, authoritarian Christianity.
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It’s difficult to argue that the emergence of Christian radio, television, magazines and marketing over the past 100 years has not greatly influenced the way Christians learn and experience the faith. I don’t agree with much of what du Mez wrote regarding the motivations of the people she covered in her book.
But she has some good points. There are many women in evangelical churches who expect to be told that it’s acceptable to remain in a borderline-abusive relationship, as long as it occurs within the limits of matrimony. There are many women who are ignored or even attacked for making valid accusations of sexual impropriety against highly placed church officials. Righting these wrongs takes the courage of humility, which is severely lacking when metrics replaces souls and fruit as the measure of church health.
Alternatively, rock and roll icon Bono’s memoir spends most of its time on political causes, and mostly left-wing ones at that. His devotion to Jesus and his knowledge of scripture are apparent throughout, and challenge the America-centered faith most Christians (and therefore non-Christians) here see. Studies show that most American evangelicals are “saved” (profess Jesus as their Lord and savior) between the ages of 4 and 14 years. An NAE study asserted that 98% of Christians accepted the Lord before the age of 30. (This makes me a great outlier as I was 34.)
This makes sense if you look at America from over the sea, from Dublin. In Ireland, most are born into a faith, and it’s rare that one swaps from Catholic to Protestant—Bono is one of those exceptions, born into a mixed family. The church exerted so much influence over Irish families, lives and policy for so many years that the value of faith, as opposed to identity in a church, has been largely lost. Over the centuries, there have been moves of God in Ireland (the Ulster revival of 1859 being one of the chief examples), and one of those pentecostal movements swept up Bono, The Edge and Larry Mullen, three of four U2 members.
There’s a built-in arrogance to American Christianity, especially the evangelical kind, that considers Catholic fealty to Rome to be some kind of dual-allegiance. (It’s the same argument used in anti-semitic quarters that call into question Jews’ “patriotism” when the question of Israel arises.) This lack of humility leads many times to a “what’s good for America is good for God” attitude, which further enables this “red, white and blue” and military-happy version of warrior Christianity.
I can tell you personally, as counter-intuitive as this is, in actual military towns, like the one I lived in for 26 years, the militarization of church is pretty far from the congregation’s mind. Sure, churches there honor the military—how can they not when somewhere around 90% of the congregants have some connection to it—but they do not emulate the military in style, form, or substance. In fact, I have found a greater level of compassion and tolerance in military-based churches than in some of the rural or urban churches that assume a military bearing.
Opinions expressed online that marriage between two men or two women is holy matrimony, or that woman can become men or vice versa, those making such arguments as serious theological positions, are heretics promoting heresy. And the heretics can be very loud indeed, in secular media, entertainment, and political circles. On the side of faith, the loud ones are the “culture warriors” fighting some kind of battle, one that involves book banning, laws restricting free speech, and power plays for political gain—so says David French.
Faith is under attack by the world, and therefore the world, to Christians, is corrupting. So stuff like Mr. Beast’s friend Chris Tyson beginning a transition, or Target’s near-religious devotion to promoting the LGBT community, or Chick-fil-A’s appointment of a diversity, equity and inclusion executive, can all be seen as proof that the world is against Christians, and corrupts everything. But is that really true?
Or is the church corrupting itself from the inside?
The question I have, putting on the rabbi’s hat, is who is corrupting whom? The Old Testament tells us what we put into our bodies is what makes us holy or what defiles us. Eat something unkosher and that’s a sin. For Levites and priests, touching a dead body defiles a person. Doing work on the Sabbath is a sin. An entire legal system was laid down in writing to determine exactly what constitutes “work” on Shabbat—it’s still in use today in Israel, and is also responsible for “Sabbath mode” in kitchen appliances and elevators.
Jesus came and seemingly broke the rules. He ate with sinners, spoke with prostitutes, and healed on Shabbat. The religious authorities of the day were extremely concerned and upset with this preacher’s popularity and message. They believed he was one of a number of people who claimed to be the Messiah, and that his breaking of their rules was a challenge to the authority of the Sanhedrin, not an expression of God’s heart.
Jesus said it was temptation to sin, not the outward actions of what you ate or drank, or who you ate or drank it with, that is our major faith struggle. Falling to temptation is human, but causing temptation in others is a far more grievous sin, as that is basically agreeing with Satan and helping the cause of the enemy of our soul.
“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. Matthew 18:7-9.
Too many ministers today, and historically, have committed terrible sins while maintaining a religious pretense. I wrote about Ravi Zacharias, who I had seen preach several times while he was alive, who almost always told stories of how he had to maintain a life devoid of even the appearance of sin—sexual sin. He did this while, for decades, committing sexual sin. He is not the only one, and surely not the only one to come who will be revealed as someone posing as something they are not. Zacharias believed his ministry was bigger and more important to God than his own soul, or his personal avoidance of temptation. He was dishonest with his own soul.
The rabbi hat tells me it’s far more important what you do to others than what you must to do yourself to keep an appearance of holiness. The religious lawyers in Jesus’ day tried to trap him by asking which is the greatest commandment. They could not argue with the answer he gave.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:37-40.
At the church I attend, we’ve been talking about a “recalibration” for the last few years, starting just before COVID-19 became a global crisis. Since then, almost nothing has been the same, yet many churches and pastors have returned to their “normal” practices from before the pandemic. It’s not the pandemic’s end that cause the return, but the failure of these churches to go back to the absolute truths and recalibrate.
To “recalibrate” something means to find the standard—the absolute measure—of that thing and apply that standard to the thing you’re calibrating. In 2018, an international body voted to redefine the “kilogram” using a new definition of Planck’s constant (6.62607015 × 10-34), based on a machine called a Kibble balance, housed in a vibration-proof sub-basement vault at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The current NIST-4 Kibble balance uses a quantum measuring device that is ridiculously accurate, leading to as perfect a definition of a “kilogram” as the world as ever seen.
The Bible is as perfect a measuring device as the world as seen of the human conscience, leading to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the source of absolute truth. Hebrews 4:12 says “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” When churches, teachers, pastors, and Christian congregations fail to go back to the source to recalibrate their practices, and their hearts, this leads to temptation and to sin. The failure is one of character and a lack of humility.
You can tell when this is in operation, when one person repents, offers Biblical proof of their repentance, along with centuries of orthodox teaching supporting it, and yet is attacked by those who refuse to accept the change. This happened with Rick Warren and Saddleback Church’s expulsion from the Southern Baptist Convention. Defining heresy using denominational organizational texts that interpret the Bible one way, versus going back to the scriptures, is a failure to recalibrate. It enables sin.
Failure to recalibrate when recalibration is necessary is corrupting. Repeated failure to correct past deferred recalibrations is sin. The Holy Spirit working in believers’ hearts convicts of sin, but when that conviction is repeatedly ignored, hearts and souls are seared. Read Matthew 12—the whole chapter—to get the gist of this concept.
Christians are not constrained from working in the world. In fact, it’s encouraged, as how can a believer be “salt and light” if church folks are confined within a fortress of religion? And how can anyone share the love of God if we are told we are “at war” with the world? No, the world has enough of war, and, yes, the world without Christ hates Jesus, but only because the human spirit, before being reborn into God’s kingdom, hates the things of God. The Bible says it, and human experience proves it.
The problem with the church being corrupted isn’t the attacks from outside, or trans story hour, or book banning, or “pride month,” or all of those things that the world does to prove that it can somehow manufacture true joy and authentic self-actualization. The problem with the church being corrupted is that those who are responsible for learning, studying, teaching, and encouraging faith according to the Bible have resisted recalibrating to the very things they are supposed to hold as truth.
Ministers, leaders, pastors, teachers, and believers in Christ, if I can implore to do anything to make your faith more alive, it’s to go back to the Bible, put down fear, and take up truth, but do it in love. Challenge yourself by reading or talking to people with other viewpoints. Even if they are not 100% right, they might not be 100% wrong, and they might expose areas in faith where you have a lot to learn. I know it did with me.