The challenge in challenging cultural Christianity

By John Pierce

My minister friends can relate to this scenario: Following a sermon, a listener tells the conveyor of the message just how wonderful and touching were the words they heard.

The conversation lingers and then redirects. The early words of gratitude give way to an unrelated venomous, political diatribe that violates most everything the biblical text and message had affirmed.

Drained from the sermon delivery and other tasks of the day, it seems easier to just smile — and then shake one’s head on the drive home, wondering if it was worth it.

The disconnection between what was said and heard can be baffling. Perhaps some just hear what they want to hear.

At other times there are those who take umbrage at any challenge to what they believe  — or believe they know to be certain truth — whether a long-held biblical interpretation or the latest indoctrination from a TV or radio ranting.

American Christianity, as I reminded a congregation recently, is often more American than Christian. It is that mixture of a preferred political ideology with enough theology to make it sound religiously pure.

Churchgoers are not that eager to hear how such positions might actually be at odds with the life and teachings of Jesus that they claim to affirm and seek to follow.

Generally, acceptance of so-called “stepping on toes” is limited to such matters as calls to pray harder and give more — not real, substantive changes of heart and mind.

Challenging hard-held ideologies and poor theology carries a price. And can lead to headaches as well as headshaking.

Something as seemingly clear as affirming a commitment to Jesus as the highest priority can become threatening — when the listener realizes that even nationalism should be penultimate.

Those looking for the road to ministerial success —the way of least resistance — would do well to avoid challenges to culturally-defined faith. Often, there is push back. And such messages don’t draw the biggest crowd.

The way to fill pews and offering plates is to affirm and amplify the widely-held political ideologies of a community — and then equate them with God’s opinion as well. Nodding heads and even applause will likely follow.

This is an easy approach for those ministers who also embrace cultural American Christianity as the real thing.

For others of us, however, there’s that nagging question: Are we called to be successful or faithful?

And it’s hard to just grin and shake your head all the time.

John Pierce

About John Pierce

John D. Pierce has been executive editor of Baptists Today since 2000. Previously he served as managing editor of The Christian Index and as a Baptist campus minister at Georgia Tech, Southern Polytechnic and Kennesaw State. A native of Ringgold, Ga., he is a graduate of Berry College (B.A.), Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div.), and Columbia Theological Seminary (D.Min.). He speaks frequently in churches, consults with congregations concerning communications and holds interim pastorates. He and his family are members of Highland Hills Baptist Church in Macon.

5 Comments

  1. It’s called syncretism. Our religion becomes what we want it to be — not necessarily what God wants it to be.

    Reply
  2. I hang a large flag every national holiday. But I refuse to go to a church that has a national flag in the sanctuary or sings patriotic hymns on any Sunday. We worship God.

    We should love our country and try to raise its performance closer to its ideals. And perhaps the best way to achieve those ideals is to live out the teachings of Jesus, with which many of the opinions and political leanings of those called Christians are incompatible.

    Reply
  3. I would like to know your though how the changes the Southern Baptist have taken in the last few years. In seems they are becoming Episcopal.

    Reply
    • There are a lot of differences. The Episcopal denomination owns the local church property, for instance. The churches that have left the denomination recently had to give up the property they likely built and had kept up for years. They left because the Episcopal Church has sanctioned same-sex marriage. The Episcopal Bishop in a New England state – Eugene Robinson – is in the process of divorcing his husband now. Yep, the bishop and his husband have been married for some years. Before that, the homosexual bishop was married to a lady and has two grown daughters. That probably wouldn’t go over too well in the SBC but the “mainline” denominations are falling into that pattern now, too. You won’t likely find many Episcopal churches indulging in the same type of “worship” as a lot of Baptist churches, complete with the praise teams, reading the anthem words in unison off the back wall and swaying to a sort of rock band. The Episcopal church in my town does the great music of the church, complete with boys and girls choirs that sing such works as Handel’s Messiah. The Episcopal Church is in a tragic decline now, observing political correctness instead of the scriptures, but the denomination has much to offer in its liturgy and overall decorum.

      Reply
      • The last Southern Baptist church I was associated with quoted the Apostles Creed, had their youth learn the Catechism of Christ, and followed a liturgy. The minister limited the membership to who he beams suitable.
        I was a charter member of that church, before then I was raised n a So. Bapt. Church, married an Episcopal Church and went through com formation class. I see where the Southern Baptist hiarchy have become more like the governing body like the Episcopal governing body.

        Reply

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