For several decades, the Church in America has pursued a policy of pointing out, and attempting to fix, all it perceives to be morally broken within our nation. Rather than pursuing this goal through preaching the Gospel—which leads to personal, moral transformation—the Church has too often sought transformation through political legislation. The Church of the New Testament did not, however, attempt to control the Roman political system, nor did it pursue moral reform within the Roman Empire through political control. The writers of the New Testament, in fact, appear not to have been concerned at all either with politics or with the morality of the average Roman citizen. Rather than denouncing the immorality of unbelieving people, the harshest words of Christ and Paul and Peter struck at immorality within the covenant community; they expected the lost to behave like the lost, and expected moral reform only from those who claimed to have been transformed through faith in Jesus Christ. The early Church preached the Gospel and lived for Jesus, modeling a type of humanity the world had not seen before, a redeemed humanity that was so appealing that it proved irresistible. And it had nothing to do with political control or with legislated moral reform.
But the Church in America is far more concerned to denounce the sins of the world than it is to examine its own. How many American Christians are drowning in materialism? How many are gluttons? How many professing Christians are engaging in unrepentant pre-marital or extra-marital sex? How many Christians give not a penny to the Church or to her ministries? How many open the Bible for only one hour once per week on Sunday morning? How many Christians can articulate with any accuracy the doctrine of the Trinity? How many Protestants can define the word Protestant? The Church in America is worldly, immoral, materialistic, consumer-driven, theologically ignorant, and utterly unconcerned to address any of these ills because we are simply too busy telling our culture how bad it is while hoping that a “conservative” government will fix it. We cannot ask, “Lord, help me to see my sin and lead me in repentance,” for we are too busy asking, “Lord, help the Republican get elected.”
If I were an observer of Christianity in America from the outside, and if I had to piece together a picture of Jesus from what I had read and heard from those who profess to be His followers, here is what I would conclude:
Jesus is white. He is middle-class. He is very concerned about politics—especially American politics. After all, who cares about the Peruvian political system? He votes Republican, has a special disdain for gays, and God help the transgender people! He supports law enforcement, but is not terribly compassionate about those who die at the hands of law enforcement—He suspects that they got what they deserved anyway. The poor are poor because they’re lazy, and they don’t have much to contribute to the church anyway, so why pursue them? Jesus really wants to make you rich, but because you have so little faith, you can’t seem to claim that which you name. He is generally pessimistic. He has the same air of mild disapproval that your fundamentalist, self-righteous uncle exudes when your 16-year-old son shows up at the family reunion with long hair and a small ankle tattoo. Because Jesus expects you to groom like Ronald Reagan.
In the same vein, here is what would I never be able to conclude about Jesus by listening to Christians speak or by reading what they write on Facebook:
Jesus is God incarnate. He was born to die. He healed freely, and is deeply compassionate toward the poor and needy. He is a friend to “sinners,” and you could not drag Him away from spending time with outcasts or convince Him to spend time with “important” people. He simply did not care about politics or political control or reforming the morality of the Roman Empire. He possesses the power radically to transform human lives. He is demanding, and calls each man and woman to exercise personal, undying allegiance to Him. He let people worship Him, fully convinced that He is worthy to receive it because He knew that He is God. He voluntarily stood in the place of sinners like you and me, bearing the just anger of God against your sin and mine, in order to reconcile us to God. His resurrection is real and bodily, and it was God the Father’s stamp of approval upon the saving work of His Son—in other words, it worked. Jesus’ death worked for your salvation and mine. And before He ascended into heaven, He told His disciples, “Go into all the world and make Republicans of all nations, baptizing them in the name of political control over civil governments, denouncing societal sins, and initiating moral reform through legislation, just as I have commanded you.”
Oh wait, that’s not what He said, was it? But then again, the Church in America has long since stopped caring about what Jesus actually said. After all, we have an election to win.