Thursday, July 28, 2016

American Christianity

From my youth I've seen many examples of "American heroes" on the TV and movie screens. John Wayne was probably the quintessential hero. He stood alone, strong, individual, fighting for what was right, that sort of thing. Most of them are like that in American lore. In comic books and their television and movie offshoots we have superheroes like Batman, Superman, and Spiderman. And they're not all fictional types. Abraham Lincoln, for instance, stood alone against slavery and, by his positions and choices brought about the emancipation of slaves in America. Heroic. That's our hero image, a stand-alone kind of hero who does what is right with strength and courage.

It's interesting to me how this image has leaked into American Christianity ... and not in a good way. Recently I read that actor Bruce Willis was an atheist. Another source, however, denied this. Willis was quoted as saying he had no use for organized religion. Thus, "atheist". But another quote was offered that said he believed in God. So, not "atheist". The "no use for organized religion" concept seems to be a direct offshoot of American Christianity where we admire the lone wolf, the Lone Ranger, the rugged individual who needs no one and just does what is right. "That's the kind of Christian I want to be," many American Christians might say. So they stay away from church and just slog their way through life, "Just me and Jesus."

How odd that Scripture never presents Christianity this way. Yes, sure, it's "me and Christ", but never "Just me and Christ." Biblical Christianity is presented as Christians in a body (1 Cor 12). Paul says, "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ." (1 Cor 12:12) He says, "Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it." (1 Cor 12:27) He warns against the two extremes -- either "I'm not that part, so I'm not important" (1 Cor 12:15-17) and "They're not the part that I am, so they're not important." (1 Cor 12:21-22) The claim, in fact, is not that we're simply supposed to be a body, but that "God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as He chose." (1 Cor 12:18)

This "body" functionality, where each has his or her own function to perform for the body, is accomplished by the gifting of the Spirit. "Oh," I've heard far more than a few times, "that doesn't include me." Or they'll tell me, "I know my gift ... the gift of gab." But Scripture says, "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." (1 Cor 12:7) It's not that some get a spiritual gift and some do not. Each gets a gift. More importantly, that gift is not for your personal pleasure. it is "for the common good."

It seems to me that many American Christians have carefully removed passages like 1 Corinthians 12 from their Bibles. "Christianity is about relationship, not religion. We don't need a church to commune with God." Oh, and the ever popular "Just me and Jesus." Sounds brave, except it is not what Scripture describes. The Christian life is an interconnected life where we serve one another and are, in turn, served by one another. God's Word says that each of us has been given a spiritual gift and if you're not actually connected to believers, particularly a local body, you're not likely using that gift for what it was intended, for the purpose it was given. Imagine the insult to the Holy Spirit! "Thanks for that gift of ____. I'll just put it in the closet, stored nicely. I don't think I'll really use it."

Christianity is a uniquely "other" way of life. Built on "love one another" (John 13:34) and functioning as an interconnected body of Christ where "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together" (1 Cor 12:26), we are not designed to be a John Wayne or Captain America or Wonder Woman. We are designed to heroically invest our lives in each other. When we fail to do it, we weaken the body of Christ. When we succeed, we become a powerful force for God's work in this world. There is no room in Christianity for Lone Ranger Christians, no matter what American individualism tries to tell you.

10 comments:

Bob said...

I made the mistake of taking an interest in the Reformed view. it changed everything.
now i am a pariah, i have been alienated from the church. as much as i love to be with my brothers and sisters at church, i just cant keep my mouth shut about Election, Sovereignty, and God's exclusive Revelation. now i guess i am in the category of lone wolf. that bites...

Stan said...

Well, now, to be fair, you don't have to be. There are bodies of believers that believe as you do. Right? (That's a rhetorical question, since I've seen them and you have, too.) But it certainly seems like genuine Christianity, whether on Election and the Sovereignty of God or "saved by grace" or "follower of Christ" or "transforming of the mind" or more, is "outside" of modern Christianity in many churches. "What? You want to follow God's Word? Well, then, you'll have to do that elsewhere. We don't do that here." (Like the church that subscribed to the Westminster Confession as their statement of faith ... until you started to show them what it said.)

Bob said...

ok enough with the wining; like you said it doesn't have to be that way. so the best thing to do; is get up and go to Church. just trust and obey .. just reading my own post makes me feel like i am suffering from the Wimpy kid syndrome.. put me back in the game coach..

Stan said...

(Can I share a secret? One of the reasons I write this stuff at all is precisely that. I see what I wrote, realize how it sounds or how wrong it is, and realign my thinking. You'd be amazed at how many edits, corrections, and outright deletions I've done over the years.)

Bob said...

no not you..
getting back to the original post, i agree that we need to be in the body of Christ.
that there are no lone sheep in the family of God. but in today's liberal Christianity and mega church mentality, we are challenged to preach the whole Gospel to the brotherhood. ironic that we see such a need in the family. despite the push back that we may get from other churches , we are commanded to teach sound doctrine. unfortunately the teaching of doctrine is considered disruptive and decisive. so if you are of the attitude that all is well in your church and do not want to upset the status quo, then by all means do not read the scriptures.
or you may be compelled to speak out an be ostracized..

Stan said...

True. Scripture says we are to be largely "others" based, loving one another, serving one another, that sort of thing. It does not "And everyone will like you for it."

Marshall Art said...

So it seems that one can seek brotherhood with a church body and still be a lone wolf once a congregation is found. I found that to be the case with my previous congregation, when as my last encouragement when termed out as Council President that we begin a discussion regarding leaving the denomination to be a more Bible believing and Bible guided body. While one or two appreciated my words with handshakes and "It's about time" responses, nothing whatsoever happened. No questions about how, when or if we really should exit the denomination and either strike out on our own or join up with a "more Christian" denomination. Don't exactly know why, except that perhaps as small, mostly older group, perhaps they didn't see the need to bother.

Then again, it was a UCC congregation, so perhaps the bar for being a lone wolf is no more than ankle high. It was just disappointing that my desire to remain a part of that body was in conflict with my desire to part with what I regard as a heretical and morally confused denomination.

Stan said...

Well, as your example points out, there can be a question of whether or not the "church" in which I'm exercising my gift is an actual church. I mean, I know of too many "Christian churches" that no longer qualify as "Christian", at which point a believer there would not be exercising his or her gifts in a body of believers.

Craig said...

Given the fact that Jesus big commandment #2 was "Love your neighbor as yourself", and that live can only be lived out in relationship with others it seems to be a safe bet that we shouldn't do the Lone Ranger thing.

Stan said...

Precisely.