The Christian faith has been the spiritual backbone of the United States of America since its inception. To this day, the Senate and the House of Representatives open with corporate prayer every day. Prayers are spoken at every presidential inauguration. Every politician’s oath of office is undertaken with one hand on the Bible, and ends with the words “so help me God.”
Not so help me Buddha or so help me Allah.
So help me God.
The church is big on traditions too, many of which have survived the centuries. But there’s no denying that the church of today doesn’t always resemble the church of 200 years ago. That’s not entirely a bad thing. My wife and I find it rather convenient that congregations aren’t separated by gender anymore.
On the whole, we’re a more welcoming, inviting place. In fact, every church in America should have a big banner over its doors showing off how welcome and inclusive we are. Big, flashy, eye-catching signs. Impossible to miss. On those banners we could print the words:
ALL ARE WELCOME HERE
We all agree with that. Yes? Because there is no greater purpose or mission for the church than the Great Commission, Jesus’ command to win lost souls by showing them how to accept His forgiveness. Here’s an example of what it might look like.
What? Oh, ignore that fine print at the bottom. I honestly forgot that was there. It’s not important.
As long as you’re here, let’s brainstorm some more banner ideas. It’ll be fun! Here’s one I’m picturing in a regal deep purple, maybe with a golden crown somewhere in there:
GOD ALONE IS WORTHY
That’s a solid, biblical statement. It speaks to His greatness, His love. “God is God, and I am not,” as the song says. Ignore the small print at the bottom that’s clearly meant to be overlooked:
*but look out for number one
Not feeling it? *eye roll* Good grief. Wait, I’ve got a really good one. What if we make a banner that says:
THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE
That’s good stuff right there, taken from the Gospel of John. I believe it, don’t you? Don’t worry about the small, barely legible print underneath:
*so lie until the truth is unrecognizable
Don’t like that one either? Man, some people are hard to please… All right, what about:
WE SUPPORT TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE
Admittedly, it’s a little controversial in today’s political climate. But this is a 100% accurate statement for the vast majority of evangelical churches in America. Just ignore the words underneath that say:
*but we’re totally cool with cheating
Still no? For crying out loud… I’m on a roll, here, people! Work with me! Wait, I’ve got it. This is the one, I can feel it. Nobody can possibly dispute this:
WE SERVE A MIGHTY GOD
We certainly do! He is mighty, all-powerful, all-knowing. His plans will always be accomplished, He is always in control, and He only ever wants that which is the very best for us. He is the one and only source of our hope and salvation. So, you know, who cares if the teeny-tiny print that comes with our sign says:
*but always get revenge
Just don’t worry about that part, all right? It doesn’t matter! Good grief, people, can’t we focus on what’s important here? Okay… Let’s see, what else? I know! What if we make a big one that’s wide enough to fit this:
THERE IS ONLY ONE WAY TO HEAVEN
Come on, people. That’s a theologically sound, biblical promise taken right out of Jesus’ mouth. The pathway to Heaven comes through Christ alone, belief in His sacrifice on the cross and commitment to living your life for Him. Never mind the insignificant fine print that says:
*”repenting of sins” no longer required
That last bit doesn’t concern us. Just ignore it. Oooo, I’ve got another one. Can’t believe I didn’t think of this before, it’s so obvious:
GOD IS LOVE
It’s simple, it’s profound. It’s the foundational principle of all creation. It’s the reason for our very existence. Also true are the words underneath that say:
*don’t ask for a hand-out, you’re on your own
No? Seriously? Sigh… All right, one more. If you don’t like this one, I’m out of ideas:
JESUS DIED FOR YOU
Jews, Gentiles, Republicans, Democrats, white people, black people, even those unforgivable people who talk at the theater. “Everyone” means everyone, right?
Pay no attention to those words at the bottom. You’ll sleep better.
Wait, what? What do you mean you don’t think any of these banner ideas are fair? Why on earth would they strike you as silly? Sarcastic? You can’t be serious! Far-fetched? You’re actually saying they’re unwarranted, unreasonable characterizations of the modern church??
* * * * *
Allow me to be blunt: IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT YOU THINK. It doesn’t matter what I think. All that matters is this.
Sometimes the lost and hurting people of this world peek inside the walls of the church. Maybe they steal a glance through an open door. Maybe they lean in and peep through a window. Maybe they even walk in and silently take a seat in the back row.
They’re starved for mercy, grace, love, and forgiveness. They come to the church, thirsting for the same redemption that we received, no matter how unworthy we felt.
And now they’ve stopped looking to us for it.
Why? Well, this is the part you’re not going to like.
These people have stopped looking for life and love within the evangelical church because what they see there is a house of hypocrites. We don’t believe that about ourselves, of course. We’re offended at the very idea. But regardless of what we think, this is the image we’re projecting to the dying world around us.
Remember when Jesus commanded us to be “in, not of” the world? We used to be pretty good at that. These days, we’re more focused on the “in.”
Quick, somebody remind me: what’s the purpose of the church? Our routine is to attend, learn about God, listen to sermons, sing songs of praise, fellowship with each another, and pray. Those are great things, and they serve as a splendid weekly rallying point for us, the Believers.
But what’s the chief purpose of the church?
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28: 19-20 NIV)
And the greatest commandment, remind me of that. How did Jesus put it?
“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.”
His second command is equally important:
“Love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12: 30-31 NLT)
Make disciples. Love one another. It’s not complicated stuff.
Right now, the world sees empty pretense in the evangelical church because we’re not projecting Christ-like behavior anymore. There’s a striking disparity between what we believe we’re doing and what we’re really doing. It looks like this.
We worship God with our whole hearts inside the church. And then we walk outside and glorify a morally bankrupt human man with those very same hearts.
The man currently serving as President wooed the evangelical church, said all the things we wanted to hear, won our votes, and despite an obvious lack of character, morals, or integrity, we placed him on a pedestal and cheered him on as if he’s the epitome of virtue. Today, even minor criticism of him is not permitted. An unthinkable sacrilege.
Or maybe we do know the truth about what kind of man he is, but delight in him anyway because he’s enforcing policies we desire for the Kingdom of Man.
Does no one remember when our priority was the Kingdom of God?
Is it any wonder those folks peeking inside the church find it hard to take seriously anything that goes on in there? To quote the late Brennan Manning:
“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, and walk out the door and deny Him with their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
You can preach the Gospel until you run out of air in your lungs, but if you do it while heaping praise on the actions of an unrepentant, self-serving man, your words are meaningless to those who need to hear them most.
As Christianity Today‘s Timothy Dalrymple put it, addressing the disconnect between the church and its devotion to Donald Trump, “the problem is the wholeheartedness of [our] embrace.”
We as Christians are benefactors of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, the greatest gift of all time. The Creator gave up His life for His creation. How dare we betray that sacrifice by elevating government over church. How can we possibly display disapproval instead of acceptance to those desperate for a human connection. We do nothing for the poor and the lost because capitalism demands that they fend for themselves. We secretly hate and fear those who aren’t like us. We have no compassion for those fleeing oppression. We judge the sins of others while happily ignoring (or outright reveling) in the cruel behavior of a leader incapable of basic human sympathy. We portray the Body of Christ as a sanctimonious fraud.
How dare we.