The Problem in the American Church

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. -Luke 15:11

I was in a meeting recently where several people were sharing their efforts in different arena’s. One man shared about his efforts to address homelessness, another spoke of prison ministry and rehabilitation, and yet another missions work around the world. There was one more who spoke about political issues.

Want to take a guess who got the biggest applause and only standing ovation that day?

Keep in mind this was a Christian group.

The answer to this is what I believe is wrong in the American church as it reveals our most passionate priority, and it is sorely and discouragingly misplaced. Politics have their place, but are not the answer to the worlds problems. (By the way, I happened to agree with much of what this speaker spoke…but not always the way in which it was spoken. Her personal story was powerful, but she made the other side the enemy in a way that will persuade no one but just get the “amen’s” of the choir).

It’s extremely disheartening to see this is where the most fervor, energy and passion (really just anger that divides) continues to get put by Christians in a very emotional charged, angry, divisive way that makes everyone else “enemies” when our real battle is a spiritual battle not against each other (Ephesians 6).

Let me get right to the point: people will not be won to Christ and enter his kingdom (in a truly trans-formative way) if we are more concerned about our earthly kingdoms and political views than God’s eternal kingdom and people’s eternal destiny. When we speak so disparagingly and use such heated personal rhetoric, we persuade no one, but rather reinforce positions and stereotypes. It also taints our witness as those professing to follow Jesus. It turns people off to the Good News we are supposed to be most passionate about proclaiming.

Here is another way to put it and it dates back to over 2,000 years ago when Jesus himself began a parable this way: there was a man who had two sons. We have historically mislabeled this parable and done it an injustice by calling it by it’s popular name: the prodigal son. But this story is as much as about the second son (what we would call a conservative today) as it is the prodigal (liberal) son. Both sons were lost, just in different ways. I would submit this same dynamic is playing out today in our culture.

But perhaps the shocker to Jesus’ original audience (a response to the Pharisee’s, representing the older conservative son) is that the one who begins the story as most obviously lost (the liberal prodigal) ends up being found, while the one who doesn’t overtly appear lost ends up angry and blind to his own heart and lostness. The parable ends with us knowing the prodigal is found, but hanging in regard to whether or not the older, angry, conservative son will repent in light of his father pleading with him to have a change of mind and heart too.

Jesus reserved his strongest words for “conservatives” (Religious Pharisees)…not liberal (“sinners”).

Here’s the deal. Jesus represents a “third” son. Jesus is neither liberal or conservative. His kingdom is not of this world. He has come to deal with the heart of the real problem and it’s not political. The issue is the sin and darkness in every human heart. The problem is our sin has separated us all from God. Though made in his image, we have fallen short of reflecting his glory, perfection, heart and character. Jesus came on a rescue mission. He came to pay our sin debt by his death on the cross. He came to die in our place so we could be forgiven and reconciled to a holy but loving God. He came that we might know God. He came that we might have eternal life. He came so that we might enter into and learn the ways of his eternal kingdom; where there is peace with God and peace with one another. He came to redeem us that we might become like Him.

As Christians, we would do much better to focus our most passionate energy on being more like Christ. That is after all, the focus of the entire New Testament when addressing Christians. (Read my prior blog article on this here: God’s Purpose for Your Life) and representing him/reflecting the heart of God who longs to draw all into relationship with Him and reconcile the world to Himself. That is what the world truly needs and is the heart of all problems in the world.

Why can’t this become our greatest passion rather than politics?

PS…I am grateful for godly people involved in politics who are trying to make a better and more just world. I know several personally…and we need to pray for all in government. The world also needs more politicians of integrity, character and godliness. The point of this article however is to point out that American Christian priorities are out of alignment when politics are what we get most passionate about. That becomes idolatrous and looking for salvation in the wrong place. True salvation is found in the person of Jesus Christ, so let’s stay focused on Him and the message He called us to bring to this world.

***Also, another article would be required to speak to some extremes on the other side I am seeing surfacing in reaction to the issue above. “Liberals” can be filled with equally as much anger, bitterness and prejudice as conservatives in other ways. We can become the very thing we hate if we are not careful to reflect something else entirely: the way of Christ and heart of God.

God, sanctify us by your truth not our own, and help us see people through your eyes that long to draw all into relationship with yourself above all else.

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