American Christianity

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,  being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. -Philippians 2:1-11

I believe this passage strikes right at the heart of the current problem with much of “American Christianity.” Let me cut to the chase: too many who identify as “America Christians” are putting “America” ahead of the “Christian” part. Yes, I am an American myself, but I am first of all a follower of Christ. I am a citizen of the United States of America; but I have a higher citizenship as a citizen of heaven. I was born an American; but I was born-again into the family of God when I trusted in Christ. This identity and citizenship in the kingdom of heaven is one that is eternal; while any earthly citizenship is temporary.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with being a Christian who is American; but there is a problem when I see myself as first an American and secondly a Christian. As a Christian first, my primary loyalty is not America, or the American way of life, but Christ and the way of his kingdom. And the way of Christ and his kingdom sometimes collides with the way of the American life. In fact, writing to Christians in Rome, Paul exhorted them not to be “conformed” to the ways of the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds (Romans 12:1-2) as they surrendered and submitted their lives to Christ. We have to begin to see where we are confusing the American way with the Kingdom way.

Right now, we have a culture that is operating out of fear instead of faith. We are more concerned with our rights than God’s righteousness. We are afraid our “way of life” is being threatened instead of seeking first his way of life and laying down our lives for others. We are holding tightly to our earthly kingdoms instead of pursuing his eternal kingdom. We demand our “rights” and “interests” regardless of how that affects others. Comfort and security is more important to us than Christ-likeness and servant-hood. We certainly don’t trust God’s Sovereignty. Trying to obtain and maintain political power and privilege for our own sake trumps our call as followers of Jesus to lay aside our power for the sake of others.

At the heart of our problem is a failure to seriously consider the implications to our own lives of the incarnation of Jesus Christ portrayed in Philippians chapter two quoted above. We love hearing how Jesus came from heaven to earth to save us, but the astonishingly fact is not just that Jesus left the glory and perfection of heaven for our sake; but that we too are called to leave our comfort and “castles” for the sake of others as well. It’s not just the staggering truth that Jesus, the Son of God, humbled himself and laid aside his power and privilege for our good; but that we are to also humble ourselves, hold loosely to any positions or privilege we have, and also take upon ourselves the identity of servant for the good of others as children of God.

Jesus didn’t come demanding his “rights” be upheld. Rather, he allowed himself to even be crucified in order that we might be counted as righteous and receive his righteousness. Jesus didn’t come and demand others serve him so he could maintain power and privilege; he came as a servant and laid down his life for us. Jesus didn’t operate in a spirit of fear, afraid of losing his life; instead he submitted himself to God and surrendered his life that others might live.

Does this characterize the ethos and attitude of current “American Evangelical Christianity?” What is it that truly makes a country, or people “great?” Could it be that true greatness is found in the example of the humble, Incarnate, crucified Christ not the powerful, pompous and prideful Caesar we seem to be identifying more with? And what would it look like for you and I to follow Jesus’s example to live a life of “incarnation” to those around us? Jesus left it all and laid it all aside for your sake; now we are called to the same way of life for one another.