Friday, March 18, 2005

The Comfort of a Christian Nation

I've always wondered what it would be like to be a Christian in a culture where most others are not only non-Christian, but anti-Christian. Granted, I have been to places where if I had decided to pull out a bullhorn and start reading Galatians aloud I would have been beaten to a bloody pulp. But that's not exactly what I'm talking about. What would it be like to have been a First Century Christian at a time when the Romans would use our brothers and sisters as Purina Lion Chow? For that matter, what is it like for Christians in China or Syria or Sudan? Would I have the strength to stand for Christ boldly, or would I make it a point to find my prayer closet and stay there for a few years? Would I share with someone who asked me about Jesus if I knew it was against the law?

In America, we've really never had to deal with anything like that as Christians. Sure we've had times when Christians had to stand up to other Christians and confront them on issues like slavery and civil rights, but we've never faced real Christian persecution. Now I've heard people moan and wail about things like the Ten Commandments monument in Alabama and Christmas decorations being moved off public property, but that's not persecution. If you want to hear about persecution, talk to a foreign missionary. They can tell you some stories that will at once inspire you and break your heart. In America, we don't know what persecution is.

Some would say that's because we live in a Christian nation. Others will tell you that this used to be a Christian nation, but now it is a secular nation. Still others say that while we claim to be a Christian nation, we are truly not -- kind of a stealth secular society. But among many, there is a big push to make the United States a Christian country once again, if we're not already. Or something like that.

I found this article about the recent Reclaiming America For Christ conference. Now I have the utmost respect for many of the things D. James Kennedy has done. I especially appreciate his work in the field of evangelism. One of my college roommates went through Evangelism Explosion training, so I've seen a bit of how God has used his talents for the good of His people. And I've watched his television show and seen him standing in his pulpit which has to be about 76 stories off the ground. I swear, the ushers at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church must issue binoculars to worshippers so they can see where Dr. Kennedy is standing. To me, it is similar to what it would look like if someone built a giant lectern at the edge of Pride Rock from The Lion King.

But anyway, I truly applaud James Kennedy for his service to the Kingdom, but I wonder if this emphasis on making America a Christian nation again is really the best use of his talents. Is it critical that America be a Christian nation? Now naturally I want all Americans (and all non-Americans) to be Christians. But is it a matter of life or death? Let me explain.

In this country we have it pretty easy as Christians. And I'm glad I don't have to fear being imprisoned for preaching in church on Sunday or to worry that my congregation will not be allowed to attend worship services by governmental order. But how healthy are we when we get too comfortable?

I've seen surveys where anywhere from 75-95% of Americans claim to be Christians. Yet surveys also show that well over half don't understand simple Christian doctrines such as salvation through grace or the deity of Christ. Many never even share the Gospel or even attend corporate worship. What kind of faith is that? Is that the faith to which Christ called us? There are a whole lot of people walking around with those rectangular stick-on name tags which say, "Hello! I'm ___A____CHRISTIAN_____." It's still fashionable in most circles to wear the name Christian, after all it makes you look like a good, honest person, right? Yet behind these name tags are people who claim Christ when it's convenient, but otherwise try to get my on the bare minimum of anything faith-related. An occasional emergency room prayer. Listening to the Christmas story in December. Wearing a cross necklace when it matches the outfit. These folks have fooled themselves into thinking they are truly Christians when they don't even consider putting Jesus first in their lives. What a danger a self-deluded nominal Christian can be -- to herself and to others.

Now let's take all those people and send them to China. (Not literally, but figuratively. I don't have that kind of credit limit!) What happens to the nominal Christian when there are earthly consequences to being a believer? Almost every one will turn away. If it is not comfortable to be a Christian, these people won't bother to claim Christ. Is this an improvement? Well, they won't be fooling themselves any longer. Will they be any farther out of the Kingdom? I would seriously doubt it.

Jesus told us that we would face persecution. Jesus told us that we are blessed when we are persecuted for His name's sake. Jesus even implied that there must be something wrong if we are not being persecuted. If the Gospel truly is an offense, then shouldn't we offend people by our beliefs? I'm not talking about pulling out the bullhorn. I mean we should not only know what Christ taught, but be able to live it out. Shouldn't it be a warning flare to Christians and to churches if we realize we have become comfortable?

Anything with perceived value is worth effort. If I had given up the first two times blogger lost this post for me, then my words wouldn't have meant too much in the first place. Yet I tried again. We have such a craving for comfort in this country that many will never make a commitment if it requires sacrifice. Christianity requires that we sacrifice our will for God's will.

Persecution can really be seen as a gift from God. We are as silver being refined when we go through the fire. If we refuse the fire, how can we call the Refiner our Lord? The Christians of Sudan, Sierra Leone, China, Iran and countless places around the globe understand that we are strengthened through adversity and persecution. Too many American Christians become caught up in desiring the comfortable life that we miss out on being conformed to the image of Christ Jesus through the bad times.

Our concern as Christians should not be the number of Christians in government. I am glad there are believers in positions of authority because they can push for things which are best for everybody -- morally, enviromentally and legally. However the government is not effective in evangelism. In Constantine's day, the government produced many nominal Christians. Why would we expect a different result today? Nominal Christians aren't Christians at all. What we want is for people to come to Christ, fully aware that God changes lives and usually not by making lives more comfortable. Our goal then is not for a Christian nation, but a nation (or indeed a world) full of Christians. Still we know that will not happen. But like our Father, we pray that one more would turn to Him, not to be comfortable, but to be comforted. Not to be our own, but to be His.

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