Shun, as you would the plague, a cleric who from being poor has become wealthy, or who, from being nobody has become a celebrity.
A Gallup poll in 2016 reported that over 70% of Americans self identify as Christian. I find this interesting because, in the same year, 77% of Americans felt the country was divided. Obviously, a poll taken during an election year will feed into this result no matter the outcome. However, a country that self identifies to have an overwhelming majority of the same religion and yet, at the same time, the same majority feel divided is not a country that shares said religion. Simply put, if 10 people who live together claim to subscribe to the same religion and yet at the same time believe they are divided, their religion is secondary to a more important ideology.
The default contention may be that political interest is at an all-time high, and the country is divided on political lines, not necessarily religious ones. This contention is my point exactly; people identify with their political ideology more than their religious one, specifically their Christian ideology. Now, I am not saying that the two are mutually exclusive. A Christian can be political and vice versa. What I am saying is a Christian (or any religion rather) should not be divided from another Christian for political reasons.
So what is my point in all this? The majority of Americans are not Christian, but rather subscribe to a religion that is a sum of self-help speeches with enough Jesus sprinkled in to pass as Christianity. The Christianity where if we believe hard enough and pray long enough, we’ll get the promotion we’ve been longing after, or all our problems will go away. Herein lies American Christianity.
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God of the middle-class
Turning through the pages of scripture, you can see how merely taking enough scriptures out of context can lend any speech biblical authority. Are you in debt? Are your medical bills or student loans piling up to the point where you can barely breathe? Are you tired of the 9 to 5 rat race where you make just enough to get by and nothing more? Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, your heart is also.” The reason you are being strangled by your finances is you are holding onto your money and not giving back to God what is already His. Malachi 3:10 says, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” You see, once you begin donating money to this website, you’ll unlock so many blessings you won’t even know what to do with it all. God goes as far as to say to test Him. Give me, I mean the church, I mean this website your tithe and see whether or not God blesses you.
Just like that, I have constructed the template on how to separate people from their money and into my pocket using just enough scripture to make it seem credible. I’ve attended a church where bringing forth the tithe was preached every Sunday for a month, and not a syllable of the Gospel was uttered. Paul writes, “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” The misuse of tithing is not the most egregious part, it is merely a symptom of a much larger poisonous belief.
Health, Wealth, and Prosperity
There is a naive belief or understanding that when Jesus came down, it was so that we may have better lives. John 10:10 says as much, “…I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” So if we believe that Jesus is God and that He died for us, then all our struggles and suffering will go away. If not completely go away, then things will at least get a little better. You see, God wants us to fulfill our destiny and our dreams, and conveniently what God wants for us lines up precisely with what we want for us. Because I’m a believer and trust in Jesus if I pray enough or believe enough or do enough good things, God will help me in my endeavor. Like it says in His Word, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” So when someone sees my success and asks me how’d I come to it, I’ll credit Jesus.
“Jesus gave you that car?” They’ll say, “Well, I’ll take Jesus!”
This. This is what is preached across evangelical Christian churches across the country. Not all, of course, but too many. Let an unbeliever walk into a church today when, luckily, the pastor will actually mention Christ in the sermon and immediately delves into how Jesus will fix all your problems. Don’t have enough money? Jesus. Are you in a series of bad relationships? Jesus. Is your marriage in ruins? Jesus. Are you having trouble in your personal life and you just don’t know how to get out? Jesus. The unbeliever walks away from the church, a “believer” who is eagerly anticipating Jesus to fix all her issues.
What happens when a month goes by for the new believer and not only have things not gotten better, they’ve gotten worse. The answer is clear; she hasn’t prayed enough, hasn’t done enough good, hasn’t given to the church enough. Check those boxes first then see if you’re problems haven’t turned around. Another month goes by, and things are still only getting worse clearly God is a liar or He is not real, either way I was better off before I believed. One clear indication of a false gospel is when work is required. You must do x to receive God’s grace.
Allow me to present another statistic. Even though 70% of Americans self identify as Christians, that number is consistently going down while the number of the irreligious has doubled. However, not going down as fast as church membership where just over 50% of Americans claim to be members down from 70% two decades ago. Why are people leaving, specifically leaving? Let me claim because they were never believers to begin with. Well, that’s a convenient position for me to hold, except it’s not because I don’t blame them for leaving or their shallow belief.
We, as a church, have systematically failed to make the portrait of Jesus, son of David, compelling enough. We have not shown to them that Jesus is better than everything, better than everyone. He is better than money, better than power, better than sex. On the contrary, we have convinced them that Jesus is the savior to meet their every need. And when He doesn’t meet their expectations, well then they can find another, or they can do without.
“But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.” The Gospel is not Jesus debt-free, or Jesus will break your addiction, or make your life better. God is capable of all these things, but they are NOT the Gospel.
What then is the Gospel?
First, some backstory. The Gospel asserts that God exists. If God exists, then His standard exists not because He wills it so but because God in and of Himself is a standard. If there is a God then what He deems good is indeed good and what He deems bad is bad, who could you appeal to above Him? Therefore when God makes man in His own image, man is beholden to His standard with the capacity to follow it or not. When man decides not to follow God and break His standard, or sins, he has separated himself from God, and God keeps that separation in both punishment and mercy. Punishment in the sense that we must now live in a world with a life not filled by His glory and mercy because if we were in God’s presence, we would die immediately. Not only because He has judged us, but because sin in the presence of God dies or must die, light and darkness cannot coexist. Then, for man to be reconciled to God, sin must die, and this was traditionally done through animal sacrifices. A healthy animal would bear the sin of a man, be sacrificed, then the man was called to repent. And the cycle continues: sin, sacrifice, repent. The sacrifices could never be enough because man’s sin is too great and too many.
This is the good news that God so loved the world that He sends down His only Son, Jesus, to become God incarnate, fully human and fully divine. To live a perfect and sinless life so that He may bear the weight of all the sin in the world and through His suffering and death reconciles man to God. And then resurrect from the dead so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
The Gospel is not what man can do to be reconciled with God, on the contrary, it is God through His love and mercy who offers Jesus as the sacrifice so that through His death sin dies with Him and man is reconciled to God. Not man reaching out to God, but God reaching out to man. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” By His resurrection, Jesus lives forevermore so that those who believe in Him will be saved.
Jesus did not come down to unburden us of our daily lives. Instead, He came to unburden our souls from the weight of sin and separation from God. Every last apostle from Peter being crucified upside down to Paul being beheaded believed not in a gospel that will meet their every need but a Gospel that reconciled them to God and find ultimate satisfaction in Him. “…I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”
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